Representatives from both the Capistrano Unified School District and its teachers said they expect to be in long talks today, as the two sides resume negotiations in effort to reach accord that will keep instructors off the picket line come Monday.
The two sides had met for about 15 hours over the past three days, including 5-1/2 hours Saturday, as negotiations were to begin at 1 p.m. today, said California Teachers Association spokesperson Bill Guy.
"It's not an easy thing, but we're hoping it'll work out. Our members are determined," Guy said. But he promised that teachers "will be on the picket lines for the third day tomorrow, if we don't reach a settlement today."
About 90 percent of the district's 2,200 teachers went on strike Thursday, picketing all 56 schools.
District officials said less than half the 51,000 students showed up for classes on Thursday, and less than a third on Friday.
The school board imposed pay cuts of 10.1 percent to help balance the district's budget.
The teachers want the district to make the pay cuts temporary and to restore salaries, unpaid workdays and other benefits if "unforeseen funds" are received.
District officials have offered to discuss the demands, but say they can't legally agree to them up front.
"There's a certain amount of money available," said School Board President Anna Bryson. "These are difficult times.
"There is a definitely a financial tornado that has torn into our community," he said. "We are people of good will."
Bryson said she expects another lengthy meeting today. "It means things are being worked out," she said. "We look to a conclusion at some point."
The pay cuts are projected to save the district about $19.9 million, but the district still needs to close a $34 million budget gap.
The strike is the first by educators in Orange County in a decade. Teachers in the Capistrano school district last struck in 1974.
Over the past several years, the school board considered closing three elementary schools, and struggled over school attendance boundaries, resulting in two recall efforts. The district has also been criticized for constructing a $35-million administration building some called the Taj Mahal, and a third recall petition drive is under way against two board trustees.
Saturday's talks were accompanied by a rally by about 250 teachers, parents and students outside the school district office.
Jessie Klinger, 16, a sophomore at Mission Viejo's Capistrano Valley High School, told the Orange County Register that she wanted to return to school to prepare for standardized tests.
"If the teachers stay on strike, we won't be able to take the STAR test and the AP tests," she said.
Sherree O'Brien of Aliso Viejo told the newspaper she kept her second- grade son home from school Thursday and Friday because she didn't want him to cross picket lines.
"Honestly, I don't think they're learning anything there," she said. "Some of the classes have 45 kids in there."
Before Saturday's talks, about 200 teachers, parents and residents met in a room inside the district's San Juan Capistrano offices to talk about recalling Capistrano trustees Ken Lopez-Maddox and Mike Winsten, the Register reported.
The petition drive began months ago, but teachers upset over the salary cuts are getting more involved in the effort, organizer Chris Korpi told the newspaper.
The latest recall attempt -- the third in the past five years -- is being organized by community activists who say district spending is "out-of-control" and that some of the trustees have conflicts of interest and are engaged in nepotism. The group needs to collect 21,850 signatures per trustee by May 1.
The Orange County Republican Party's 73-member Central Committee governing body has called the recall effort a "union-backed effort to remove the new regime that has brought fiscal accountability to the district," according to local G.O.P. Chairman Scott Baugh.