After voting for Proposition 13 last week, Bill Heckathorn may now become one of its first victims. Fourteen years a janitor for the Los Angeles Unified School District, Heckathorn faces both a possible job layoff and cuts in his health benefits as his now financially strapped employer gropes for a way to cope with upcoming massive Proposition 13-initiated funding cutbacks.
Despite these threats, the powerfully built, 60-year-old Iowa native remains convinced his vote for Proposition 13 was among the best he's ever made.
"I'm for it now even if they lay me off because they were taxing me out of my house," he said in a cluttered janitor's storeroom at Porter Junior High School here. "I've been paying on this house of mine for 27 or 28 years. To lose it after all that is ridiculous. I'd rather go out and find another job - it's easier than buying a new home."
Heckathorn's sentiments are shared by a surprising number among the school district's 77,000 employes - teachers, custodian, bus drivers, cafeteria workers - who also opted to vote for their homes and against their own jobs. In the face of stem pre-election warnings from top union and school officials of up to 40,000 job layoffs, somewhere from a third to a half of all district personnel jumped on Howard Jarvis' anti-tax bandwagon, acknowledge most union leaders.
"A lot of teachers voted for 13 and we had a four-month propaganda effort to stop it," said Hank Springer, president of the 19,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles. "People arre funny, aren't they? Its like the little boy who cried wolf. People thought it wasn't going to happen, and then the little boy got eaten up."
The Jarvis initiative, according to school district spokesman Bill Brivera, wiped out close to half of the Los Angeles schools' $1.4 billion budget, three-quarters of which normally comes from property taxes. Even with a maximum allotment of emergency state aid coming down from Sacramento, Brivera estimates, over 17,000 employes will have to be let go.
Although it was the voters who imposed this fate on them, few school employes are blaming the public for their misfortune. Instead, many trace the current school funding crisis to the inefficiency and inaction of school board officials, politicians and even the leaders of their own union.
'Jarvis talked a lot about waste in government," says Heckathorn. "But those on the outside can't even really see it. Those of us on the inside see it all the time. It's enough to make you sick."
"How can I feel resentment against the taxpayers when I'm a taxpayer?" asked Joe Napoli, a 25-year-old school mechanic. "These are my family, my friends, who did this. It's those clowns downtown - the administrators, the politicians - it's not the people's fault."
Throughout the sprawling school district, the largest in the state, three are angry employes who fear they are being unfairly victimized for the sins of the school broad and the politicians. Many claim to have first-hand knowledge of widespread waste within the school district, some of which, they claim, is condoned and even forced upon employes by district administrators.
One custodial supervisor, pointing to rows of unused school supplies on the shelves around him, said "Every year we get boatloads of new typewriters, cassettes and other things we don't need. I have to put them in the storeroom so the administrators can get their full allotments again next year. Some of it is still in the damned box it came in."
Other school employes complain about unnecessary expenditures on hot meals, which are often dumped uneaten into cafeteria trash bags, and a multimillion-dollar educational television station owned by the district but which many teachers say is underused. Even more common are complaints about high-priced administrators and consultants who, some complain, do little to aid the actual educational process.
Many employes, particularly teachers, fear the school district will lay off those directly involved in instructing students before cutting off funds to the system's central bureaucracy and its favored programs, including a massive $72 million desegregation plan.
"You tell the school district to cut and they'll save their own heads," said Norma Willens, an elementary school teacher.
While admitting there is some limited waste in the district, spokesman Bill Rivera claimed that it will be impossible to meet the Jarvis school budget deficit, projected at at least $250 million, without firing some teachers and support personnel. "This is the time-honored worker-versus-supervisor type of thing. Most teachers and staff don't like to be supervised," Rivera said. "But even if we cut out every person from principal on up in the district we'd only sace $44 million."
Embittered and increasingly worried about impending cuts, school district employes have, as yet, been unable to coalesce as a single force. Rejected on Proposition 13 by many of its own members, the teachers union is riddled with dissent and splinter groups. Some teachers are even actively challenging United Teachers of Los Angeles President Hank Springer's announced strategy of keeping the schools closed, through the winter if necessary, in order to prevent any firings.
For the district's approximately 30,000 support workers - custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers - the pospects for building a united front to fight layoffs and firings are even alimmer. Two rival unions, the California School Employes Association and the Service Employes International Union, are locked in a bitter jurisdictional dispute over who should represent these workers and seem completely unwilling to work together even in the midst of the crisis.
Instead of facing their future by closing ranks, most district employes, it seems today, are simply waiting passively as the bureaucrats and politicians work out their fate. "Right now I'm afraid the spirit of the district is completely broken and it will take years to repair it," said teacher Jim Baxter. "You're not going to see a united front of anything. What you're stuck with is an incredibly fragmented, dispirited group of people."