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Column One: Teaching

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The state education department and city hall, teachers and school officials in Hartford, Conn., last month moved closer to reaching a contract settlement that would narrow the district's $11.7 million budget gap and avoid teacher layoffs.

State Commissioner of Education Vincent L. Ferrandino and officials from the mayor's office, teachers' union, and school district hammered out a compromise that calls for $3 million in pay concessions, $5.7 million in school-budget cuts, and $3 million more in city funds.

Members of the Hartford Federation of Teachers had previously rejected the district's original offer, which would have saved the schools about $9 million by eliminating a 5 percent pay raise for teachers this year as well as a reimbursement for salary concessions the union agreed to last year.

Instead, the district was forced to send layoff notices to more than 300 teachers and consider eliminating several school programs.

But the new contract--which the school board approved last week--will restore some of the pay hikes and spare the teachers with pink slips, according to Acting Deputy Superintendent Cathy Kennelly.

When the 26,000-student district opens on Sept. 8, teachers also are expected to approve the plan, said Robert Cortese, a spokesman for the union.


Meanwhile, negotiations in a longstanding contract dispute in Warwick, R.I., continue to stumble as classes are scheduled to begin this week.

The school committee and the Warwick Teachers' Union have attempted to put the talks on a fast track, but little headway has been made, according to Superintendent Henry Tarlian.

Teachers, who have been working without a contract for two years, point out that their average salary has gone from being the third highest in the state to the third lowest.

The union, which has twice gone on strike since the dispute began, is asking for pay increases as well as reductions in class size.

But school officials "are reticent to make changes, because they feel the community can't afford that,'' Mr. Tarlian said.

Last month, the school committee and the union agreed to meet with a private consulting firm in an effort to reach an agreement. That plan fell through when the parties--which have been in mediation since January--decided they could not postpone talks until the firm was available, the superintendent added.

But the 12,000-student district also was expecting to open its doors on Sept. 8, with or without a new labor contract.--J.R.

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