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Chicago Pact Could Force Layoffs

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Teachers in Chicago were back at work last week with a contract agreement whose cost, district officials say, will force them to dismiss more than 1,000 school employees.

Ending a walkout that kept nearly 450,000 students idle for 18 school days, the Chicago Teachers' Union voted Oct. 4 to accept a two-year contract that provides for 4 percent annual pay raises. The union originally sought a 15 percent increase over two years.

Also as a part of the pact, 37 of the district's most crowded elementary schools will receive additional funds for instructional programs and personnel. In 100 other elementary schools that have been identified as lagging behind district averages in academic achievement, classes will be reduced by two students each.

To fund the pay raises, the district says it will lay off 1,300 employees, 600 of whom will be teachers. In addition, budgets for magnet-school, mathematics and reading, and special-education programs will be cut, a spokesman for the board said.

John Kotsakis, the union's administrative director, said the provisions to decrease class sizes make the teacher layoffs unlikely. He also said that although members were pleased with class-reduction measures, they would have liked a bigger salary increase.

Boston Hires Drivers

In Boston, school-bus drivers continued their strike against the companies that hold the city's student-transportation contracts.

The Boston School Department began accepting applications for substitute bus drivers on Oct. 5, the third measure in a three-step plan adopted by the Boston School Committee to halt the strike and restore transportation for 27,000 students. Eighty-one drivers have been hired so far.

The school committee first offered binding arbitration, which the union immediately rejected. As a second step, the parties moved into 48 hours of round-the-clock negotiations.

When a compromise failed to emerge from the negotiations, the department moved into the third step last Monday--hiring its own bus drivers. Superintendent of Schools Laval S. Wilson has said the measure is the only long-term solution to ending bus strikes.

Since drivers hired by the city will be public employees, striking will be illegal. The city has suffered from six driver strikes in 10 years.

When the bus drivers received dismissal notices from their companies last Monday, they held an emergency meeting with union officials and decided to reverse their decision against binding arbitration.

The school committee, in a special meeting last Wednesday night, decided in a narrow 7-6 vote to offer to go into "conditional binding arbitration."

Ian Forman, spokesman for the school department, said committee members voted to enter binding arbitration on selected issues such as wages, guaranteed minimum hours, health insurance, and pensions.

But the committee wants the union to accept the companies' Oct. 4 offer on all other issues, including work rules, a no-strike provision, and management-rights provisions.

The union had not officially responded to the committee's offer late last week, but Mr. Forman said there was some indication that union leaders were going to reject the offer.

Mr. Forman said that of the 81 new drivers hired by the district, 25 are strikers who have crossed the picket line. School officials hope to get buses rolling for special-needs students this week, he added.

School-committee members have made clear, Mr. Forman said, that this is the last private contract drivers will have an opportunity to negotiate. If a two-year contract settlement is reached, the department will switch to public drivers at the end of that term.

Other Settlements

Teachers in Elizabeth, N.J., returned to work last week without a contract, just hours before court-imposed sanctions would have cost them their jobs.

Don Tarr, spokesman for the Elizabeth Education Association, said both parties are in a fact-finding stage and an agreement could be reached soon.

In the meantime, the Elizabeth Education Association and the New Jersey Education Association have accumulated more than $2 billion in fines imposed by Superior Court Judge Frederick C. Kentz when striking teachers refused to return to work after being ordered to do so. (See Education Week, Oct. 7, 1987.)

In addition to the union fines, individual teachers were fined two days' pay for every day on strike, which means every teacher and support-staff member will have to forfeit 30 days' pay for the 15-day strike. Mr. Tarr said union representatives will appear in court within two weeks in an effort to have the fines eliminated.

In Little Rock, Ark., teachers settled their strike after a week, winning a 13 percent raise and re-opening schools for 26,000 students. It was the first teacher strike in state history.

Teachers in Youngstown, Ohio, also reached a tentative agreement last week in their three-week-old strike, allowing 15,500 students to return to school.

Overall, 48 strikes have been reported this year, compared with 51 strikes at this time last year. But because of the size of the districts in Chicago and Detroit, more teachers and students were affected this year by strike activity. Four strikes remained unsettled last week in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

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