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Contract Accord in Detroit Ends 27-Day Teacher Strike

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Detroit teachers returned to work last week after reaching an agreement on a two-year contract that settled a 27-day strike.

Under the terms of the agreement, teachers will receive 4 percent raises this year. Next year, they are to receive 3 percent raises, contingent upon the school district's ability to raise money by floating bonds on $20 million to $30 million in delinquent property taxes.

The agreement was to be submitted to union members this week for ratification by secret ballot.

School officials warned that, to pay for the contract, the district's budget will have to be cut by $21.8 million.

"We have clearly said that funding salary increases and other expensive items will require cuts,'' said Steve Wasko, a spokesman for the board of education.

A special community-review panel was to be convened last week to begin searching for ways to pay for the contract, he added.

Carol Thomas, the executive vice president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, called the contract "a good settlement.'' However, the union does not believe that drastic budget cuts, or teacher layoffs, are necessary to pay for it, she said.

"I have a feeling that this is [the district's] justification to the community for keeping the kids out of school, alleging they didn't have the money,'' Ms. Thomas said.

Expands 'Empowerment' Plan

Under the new contract, up to 45 schools will be allowed to vote to become "empowered.'' Such status gives schools greater flexibility over the use of their budgets and over their programs.

The union agreed to lift its "embargo'' of the program, which had discouraged teachers from voting to seek the special status.

There are currently 15 empowered schools in the district. To become empowered, 75 percent of the teachers in a school must vote to enter the program. Then, under the terms of the new contract, 75 percent of the teachers could vote to waive a limited number of contractual provisions.

To get waivers from other sections of the contract, schools would have to go through a more formal review process.

The agreement gives schools the flexibility the school board had sought, Mr. Wasko said. One of the central issues leading to the strike was the insistence by members of the board on giving schools this type of flexibility. (See Education Week, Sept. 9, 1992.)

The district also agreed to spend up to $1 million each year to buy duplicate sets of textbooks so that students can take books home.

Class size also was a major issue in the strike. Under the new agreement, no specific commitments were made to reducing the teacher-student ratio, but a special "design team'' will be formed to propose options for paying for the reductions.

The new contract also requires teachers to stay after school for an additional hour each Wednesday for 39 weeks to participate in "school-improvement planning.''

Teachers had already been staying after school on Wednesdays for staff meetings, Ms. Thomas noted.

North Little Rock Agreement

Meanwhile, teachers in North Little Rock, Ark., returned to work Sept. 29 after a three-day strike that affected 9,000 students.

The strike was settled when the school district agreed to restore two to three days it had sought to cut from the teachers' contract year and to award incremental pay increases based on seniority if revenues become available during the year, according to school and union officials.

Nearly 400 of the district's 600 teachers walked out, said Louene Lipsmeyer, the president of the North Little Rock Classroom Teachers Association, an affiliate of the Arkansas Education Association.

The immediate cause of the strike was the refusal of district representatives to bargain with the union because they disputed the teachers' right to be represented by the A.E.A., officials said.

According to the National Education Association, strikes continued late last week in Harrisburg, Ill.; North Tioga and Abington, Pa.; and Springfield, Ohio. The walkouts affected 844 employees and about 12,000 students.

Staff Writer Millicent Lawton contributed to this report.

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