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Teachers in Rhode Island District Back on Strike in Wake of Ruling

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Teachers in Warwick, R.I., went on strike again last week after the state supreme court reversed a lower court's ruling that had allowed teachers to begin the school year under the terms of an expired contract.

The school committee had appealed the ruling, arguing that it would cost the district $5 million to reconfigure classes to meet the terms of the old contract.

In its Oct. 2 decision, the supreme court said that Judge Paul Pederzani Jr. of the Kent County superior court, whose ruling had ended an earlier strike, lacked the authority to order the school committee to abide by the old contract, which expired in September 1991.

Judge Pederzani had issued his ruling on Sept. 14, freeing 18 teachers who had spent a weekend in jail for defying the judge's back-to-work order. (See Education Week, Sept. 23, 1992.)

After the supreme court's ruling, Warwick's 1,000 teachers voted not to return to work without a contract. Schools in the district were closed last week.

Robert H. Quinlan, the chairman of the school committee, said last week that negotiations over a new contract were continuing, but added, "We're not making any progress.''

Mr. Quinlan said the issue of class size, and how much teachers would be paid in bonus money for students over the limit, had been resolved.

But the two sides are far apart on the question of salaries, he said. The Warwick Teachers Union is seeking a three-year contract with increases in the first two years of 5.5 percent and 12 percent in the third year, he said, while the school department has offered a salary freeze this year and raises of 3.5 percent in the following two years.

Mr. Quinlan said the school department was running advertisements for replacement teachers and planned to try to reopen schools with the new workers as soon as possible.

Ellen Shearer, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, said the union viewed the hiring of replacement teaches as "an incredibly disruptive action while we are trying to negotiate.'' The Warwick local is affiliated with the A.F.T.

Elsewhere last week, there were three other strikes in two states affecting 700 teachers and 10,000 students, the National Education Association reported.--A.B.

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