Capistrano district teachers strike continues

ALISO VIEJO, Calif. Picket lines greeted students Friday at more than 50 schools in south Orange County.

The /*Capistrano Unified School District*/ and the teachers union /*Capistrano Unified Education Association*/ are at a stalemate. The district wants to cut teachers' pay by 10 percent to close a budget gap, but teachers say not unless the cuts are temporary.

"I haven't slept. I used to be able to speak, I'm so stressed out," said teacher Cyndi Wright.

More than 2,000 teachers are on strike, upset by a 10-percent pay cut imposed by the district last month to deal with a $34-million budget shortfall.

After nearly a year of unsuccessful negotiations, teachers say they'll accept the cut if it expires June 2011, and if benefits are restored if new state funding comes through.

"Our board refuses to state that this is a temporary setback in the state of California. They're holding to some position that California will never, ever become prosperous again, and that they need to permanently cut our pay," said teacher Cyndi Wright.

In March, about 400 teachers received pink slips. Layoff hearings are under way at the school district's office.

"We want to teach. All we want them to do is take out the permanent part of the status and make it temporary," said Dr. Deborah Meyers, a teacher in the district.

Negotiations continue. After Thursday's meetings, both sides said they saw progress.

"It was the first time that a teachers association team and the district's team met together in the same room together and talked to each other," said CUSD President Vicki Soderberg. "This has not happened since June of 2009."

One in eight teachers crossed the picket lines on Thursday to work. The school district also has 600 substitute teachers filling in. Less than half of elementary and middle school students showed up for class, and less than a quarter of students attended high school Thursday.

District officials said just over 30 percent of students showed up for class Friday. The normal attendance rate is 95 percent.

"The most significant drop was at our high schools," said CUSD spokesperson Julie Hatchel. "We have about a 10 percent attendance rate."

"They teach us life skills, like how to buy a car, about our personalities, stuff like that," said student Jason Ridley. "It's pointless."

"My kids are actually at home doing their work, and then coming out here and supporting their teachers," said parent Melissa Molfetta.

Some teens who sat through class on Thursday chose not to return on Friday.

"Yesterday was such a terrible experience. I had never been at a worst day of class, so I'm not going again," said student Taylor Stilwagner. "Basically, I did a personality test, and I'm in AP psych."

School district officials continued negotiations with the union Friday, hoping to reach a settlement.

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