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New Orleans Teachers Strike for the First Time Since 1978

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Teachers in the New Orleans public schools went on strike last week and reinstated costlier demands after negotiations with the school board reached an impasse.

While teachers have walked out in scattered districts across the nation since the beginning of the academic year, as of late last week New Orleans was by far the largest district to have been affected by a strike.

Approximately 4,600 teachers and as many as 84,000 students are affected by the work action that began Sept. 17. It is the first time district teachers have struck since 1978.

The Orleans Parish School Board has hired nearly 3,000 substitutes to supplement the 1,630 teachers who reported to work, according to Rose Drill-Peterson, director of information and community services.

Members of the United Teachers of New Orleans had voted two weeks before the strike to walk out if contract negotiations did not progress. Initially seeking 10 percent salary increases for its entire membership, the American Federation of Teachers affiliate later modified its demands. It offered to forgo raises for teachers, who had already gotten 7 percent hikes from the state, and to scale back salary requests to 4 percent to 5 percent for paraprofessionals and clerical workers. The union also asked the district to pay more of the premium for the employee health-insurance program.

After negotiations broke down, however, the union reverted to its initial demands.

"We wanted to insist on a raise for the secretaries and paraprofessionals," said the u.t.n.o.'s president, Nat Lacour. "These groups have not had a raise."

School officials had offered to use excess sales-tax revenue to increase salaries later in the year, an offer the union rejected because the district could not put a dollar figure on the offer.

Ms. Drill-Peterson said if the district had given raises to noninstructional personnel covered by the u.t.n.o., it would have faced the prospect of doing the same for similarly classified workers who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Teamsters. Last year, she said, the district cut $6 million from its budget, laid off 90 workers, and eliminated 77 positions. "If we had the money, we certainly wouldn't have laid off people and cut programs," she said.

Because of its precarious financial situation, she added, the school board is considering suing the state, as districts in Kentucky and New Jersey have done, to bring about finance reform.

Jail Threat in N.J. District(

Elsewhere, leaders of the South Orange-Maplewood teachers' union in New Jersey last week continued to face jail sentences even though a tentative settlement of their contract had been reached.

A state appeals court ordered Superior Court Judge Irwin Kimmelman to hold another hearing on the 30-day jail sentences he handed down to union leaders he found in contempt of court. (See Education Week, Sept. 19, 1990.)

After striking Sept. 5, teachers returned to work Sept. 14.

Under the tentative agreement, which was expected to be ratified this week, teachers will receive 8 percent increases in each of the next two years while support-staff members will receive 8.5 percent each year, said Kathy McQuarrie, a spokesman for the union, a local of the New Jersey Education Association.

The union has appealed the $35,000 fine the judge levied against it. But the 15 officers and bargaining-team members found in contempt will pay individual fines.

Striking teachers in most other districts across the country, including Fremont, Calif., and Lake Washington, Wash., have gone back to work.

Schools in Mukilteo, Wash., however, have been closed since the first day of classes, Sept. 5. The district's 495 teachers walked out Aug. 30, the first day they were to report.

Late last week, the district was scheduled to go to court to seek an in junction against the union.

At issue are shared decision-making, class size, teacher transfers, and salaries, according to John A. Cahill, a Washington Education Association field representative.

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