In Partnership with The 74

El Camino teachers would have to start over at district if charter loses its status

Mike Szymanski | August 31, 2016



Eric Choi with El Camino soccer team

Eric Choi graduated from El Camino and has taught there for more than a dozen years and coaches two teams.

If El Camino Real Charter High School is stripped of its independent charter status, its teachers would lose their higher salaries and seniority and would have to start all over as new LA Unified employees, teachers have been told by union representatives.

About 30 of the more than 150 teachers from the west San Fernando Valley high school attended a Friday afternoon information session given by UTLA to explain how the union will try to help the teachers as much as possible. El Camino is one of a handful of charters whose teachers have union contracts.

The facts were grim.

“It was as bad as we could have heard,” said Eric Choi, an English teacher at the school. “If we go back to the district, we will start from Year 1.”

The district last week issued a Notice of Violations and took the first steps toward revoking the school’s charter and returning it to traditional school status. LA Unified oversees independent charter schools and asked for clarifications on some business expenses to determine if they were irregular or excessive.

If the district revokes the independent charter status, the teachers will lose their higher pay grade. The teachers make about 7 percent more than the contracts that UTLA negotiated for the traditional school district. That’s an average salary scale of $90,000 per teacher last year.

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El Camino student council.

A number of the teachers at the school have not only worked there before it became a charter five years ago but also graduated from the high school and live in the neighborhood. And many of them take on extracurricular duties in clubs, drama and sports after school.

Choi is one of them. An English teacher and head coach for girls soccer and boys golf, he graduated from the high school in 1997, lives in the west San Fernando Valley and began teaching there about a dozen years ago when it was a traditional district school.

“We all love this school and we are all bummed about what could be the worst-case scenario,” Choi said. “The teachers are all a bit scared.”

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El Camino students welcome friends back to school.

For Choi, the pay cut would mean a loss of $14,000 a year, and he said many others stand to lose more. They would also lose the lifetime health benefits now provided by the school, and they would have to work up to such benefits under more restrictive policies now in use at the district.

He would also lose five years off his accumulation toward his retirement, for the five years or work at a charter school.

Choi had hoped that the union’s message would be more encouraging.

UTLA representative Hong Bui, who is a union charter organizer, spoke to the teachers last week and offered to be available to them for ongoing questions. It is unusual for charter schools to have union representation, and some teachers are concerned that UTLA works against groups that are trying to form more charters.

“We pay UTLA out of our dues, and still they are out there speaking against charters,” Choi said. “We are a charter school and we are UTLA.”

Teacher and former graduate Lori Chandler said she has devoted 33 years to the school. She was one of the people who spoke at last Tuesday’s public hearing at the district to express her concern. She, like Choi, remembers when teachers didn’t like the idea of becoming a charter, but now it is “the very best thing that happened to El Camino Real.” The teachers say the school district is trying to take back a successful charter school.

The teachers are hoping to have more input into answering the administration’s questions, which must be done by Sept. 23.

“As teachers we want to be involved in the situation,” Choi said. “Everyone thought the issues were answered.”

Choi said he remembered when the school had only about $100,000 to spend because it wasn’t a Title 1 school. “It’s not fair that other schools get millions of dollars and our school doesn’t just because the parents make more money in the area,” Choi said.

Meanwhile, the teachers are trying to keep students out of the fray.

“The kids don’t really know much about it,” Choi said. “And the teachers just want the best for the children. Most of us are optimistic that everything will be answered and it will all go back to normal.”

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