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Detroit Teachers' Strike Closes School for 200,000 Students

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Detroit--Teachers in the nation's seventh-largest school district were on strike last week after refusing to accept 8-percent cuts in their salaries.

The 11,000 members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers began walking picket lines last Monday after talks broke down and a state-appointed mediator declared the two sides "immovable." Teachers and school officials were scheduled to resume negotiations last Thursday.

Detroit officials tried to keep schools open, despite the walkout, but gave up after one day when only 101 teachers and 7,500 of the district's 200,000 students reported to school.

"There is no cause for optimism," said Superintendent Arthur Jefferson, who, in anticipation of a lengthy strike, began distributing homework packets to students and planning for public-television broadcasts of lessons in basic subjects.

The strike is the fourth in Detroit in the past 14 years. The last teachers' strike, in 1979, lasted 17 days.

Negotiations Stalled

Detroit schools were open for three days earlier this month, as teachers agreed to work while continuing negotiations. The temporary calm ended as the two sides stalled over the issue of union concessions.

School officials say they face an estimated $60-million deficit for the 1982-83 year and have asked the teachers to make concessions totaling $23 million. The board has demanded that teachers take 8-percent cuts in their salaries, a rollback to their 1980-81 salaries. In addition, the board is pressing for larger class sizes and fewer paid holidays for teachers.

The teachers say they want an extension of their 1981-82 contract, with no raise except the "step" increments given for each additional year of service to teachers with less than 12 years' experience. The average Detroit teacher earned $26,330 last year, according to district officials. An 8-percent rollback would place that salary at $24,224.

Shortly before the strike, both sides were working toward a temporary agreement that would have delayed any pay cuts while a state-appointed committee examined the school district's budget for other cost-cutting ideas.

The short-term pact, which would have run through Dec. 3, fell apart when the two sides could not agree whether teachers should be paid for four regularly scheduled holidays this school year.

"Our position is firm," said John M. Elliott, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. "We will make no up-front concessions. We are the hardest-working teachers in the state of Michigan, and we deserve to be paid accordingly."

Teachers gave the school board a list of alternative budget cuts, which included closing regional administrative offices, ending chauffeur service and canceling travel for school-board members, and beginning an early-retirement program for all 20,000 school employees.

Mr. Jefferson said the teachers' alternatives would save the district less than $5 million.

Mr. Jefferson emphatically denied local newspaper and wire-service reports that he had threatened to lay off 2,000 of the striking teachers.

Both Mr. Elliott and Mr. Jefferson predicted that the teachers' strike might drag on for several weeks. The state mediator, David Tanzman, said he was considering "letting both sides sit for a while and think about how inflexible they want to be about their positions."

As of late last weeks, strikes had been settled in Kalamazoo, Flint, Traverse City, and 12 other Michigan districts, but walkouts continued in three districts, affecting 16,000 students and 8,000 teachers.

In the Detroit suburb of Novi, the school board threatened to fire 188 teachers if they did not report to work last Friday.

Teachers' strikes are illegal in Michigan, but since 1974, no teachers have been fired for striking. Last Wednesday, a parents' group in Novi persuaded a local judge to issue a restraining order against the firings while negotiations continued.

Strikes also continued in Troy, another Detroit suburb, and in Wyoming, a district outside Grand Rapids.

Strikes Elsewhere

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania had 21 teachers' strikes and two walkouts by service employees, according to Dorsey E. Enck, director of management services for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Teachers walked off the job last week in Intermediate Unit 1 and Wilkinsburg, both outside Pittsburgh, and in Columbia, a town several miles south of Harrisburg.

And in southern Illinois, teachers in three districts, all across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, remained on strike, said Brian A. Braun, a lawyer for the Illinois Association of School Boards. East St. Louis, with more than 20,000 students, was the largest district affected, Mr. Braun said. In addition, teachers in Chester, also near St. Louis, staged a "sick-out" last week, but classes were not interrupted. Four districts in metropolitan Chicago and one in the St. Louis area have settled.

Because many Illinois teachers reported back to school without contracts or with extensions of old contracts, Mr. Braun said, more strikes are possible. "We're not done yet, by any means," he said.

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