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Pa. Teachers Return to Class After 51-Day Strike

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Following a 51-day walkout, teachers in the New Castle, Pa., schools returned to their classrooms last week after the state education department indicated that most of the district's 4,000 students would be held back half a year if the strike continued.

Although the state has experienced two lengthier strikes, the New Castle strike is believed to be the longest in which students have not received instruction.

"Teachers didn't want to hurt the kids," said Bernard Murray, assistant to the president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers.

The union vote came one day after a state judge refused to force the Lschool board to seek an injunction against the teachers' union. State education officials had petitioned he court to compel the school board to request the back-to-work order. As a result of the court ruling, "[teachers] knew there was no end in sight," said Superintendent Joseph A. Murphy Jr. The school board chose not to seek an injunction, he said, because court action during previous strikes had not resolved disputes satisfactorily. At issue in the teachers' strike, the third in 10 years, were salaries, fringe benefits, class sizes, and makeup days. Salaries for all other employees were frozen three years ago after the state threatened to take over the district because of its $1.8-million budget deficit.

The union rejected a multiyear contract that included no pay raise in the first year. Negotiations have yet to begin on a new contract.

While students will make up some of the days within the regular calendar, classes will be extended through the end of June. Seniors, who received part-time instruction from administrators during the strike, are expected to graduate on time, Mr. Murphy said.--kd

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