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Strikes Disrupt Opening of School Year in Midwest, East

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While teachers' strikes disrupted classes for thousands of students in the East and Midwest last week, negotiators for the Detroit school board and the local teachers' union continued bargaining, with the help of a state-appointed mediator, in the hope of averting a walkout.

After rejecting the board's "final offer"--which consisted of an 8-percent pay cut, larger classes, and fewer paid holidays--the 11,000-member union agreed to stay on the job last week for the opening of school, but authorized its leaders to call a strike on Friday if no settlement was reached.

Negotiators last week also imposed a news blackout, which in past years has been an indication that the two sides were making progress toward an agreement.

Detroit, with more than 200,000 students, apparently is the largest district in the country with an immediate threat of a teachers' strike.

Teachers Still Striking

Elsewhere in Michigan, teachers in Traverse City, Kalamazoo, and nine other public-school districts were still on strike last week, idling a total of 3,900 teachers and 78,000 students.

In addition, teachers at the 700-student Hillel Day School in suburban Detroit walked off the job, and a small district outside Detroit was unable to open its schools because of financial difficulties.

While Michigan reported the greatest number of striking teachers, Pennsylvania reported the largest number of districts on strike.

Nearly 3,100 Pennsylvania teachers from 15 districts were on strike as of last week, according to the Pennsylvania State Education Association. In most cases, the major issues were salaries and related economic items, a spokesman for the association said.

Since most Pennsylvania schools did not open until after Labor Day, which fell relatively late this year, an official at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said it was difficult to judge whether the number of strikes is lower than usual this year. So far, he said, there seem to be slightly fewer than average.

Issues Remain Unresolved

In the Pittsburgh area, 755 special-education teachers, psychologists, and other support personnel represented by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit remained on strike, with several issues, including salary, unresolved. And in the Central Bucks school district, located north of Philadelphia in Bucks County, 600 teachers struck after negotiations reached an impasse last week. School officials there said that they planned to try to open the schools in spite of the strike.

In other states:

Ohio. Approximately 300 teachers in North Olmsted, a suburb of Cleveland, remained on strike over salaries and other issues, but the district's schools remained open with substitutes, nonstriking teachers, and administrators.

Three other strikes in the state--two involving nonteaching personnel, and one involving teachers--have been settled, according to Barry S. Nelson, a labor-relations specialist with the Ohio School Boards Association.

For the second year in a row, Ohio has experienced fewer teachers' strikes than in the past, Mr. Nelson noted, probably because of the state's severe financial troubles. In several districts, however, negotiations have yet to begin or will be reopened later in the fall because of uncertainties about state aid and local tax collections, Mr. Nelson said.

"For now, we're certainly hoping this [the North Olmsted strike] is it," he added.

Illinois. Six districts, which together employ about 2,600 teachers, remained on strike as of late last week.

East St. Louis's 1,100 teachers had voted to reject the school board's proposal, which would have included raises of $1,600 for each of the next two years.

In the other five districts, all affiliates of the Illinois Education Association (iea), about 1,460 teachers were on strike. Four of the districts are suburbs of Chicago. A variety of items, including salaries, are still at issue, according to the iea

New Jersey. Two hundred teachers in North Plainfield went on strike Sept. 8, one day after the schools were scheduled to open.

As of late last week, a mediator was working to hasten a settlement.

The major points of disagreement between the union and the school board were salaries and insurance benefits, according to the New Jersey Education Association.

Compiled by Peggy Caldwell, Susan Walton, and Correspondent Glen Macnow in Detroit.

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