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Boston Board Rejects Teachers' Pact; Union Threatens Challenge

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The Boston school committee has rejected a tentative agreement with the Boston Teachers Union, prompting threats of a strike and a legal challenge to its decision.

The committee, acting in the midst of a contentious mayoral election in which the contract is a major issue, killed the pact when it split 4 to 4 over it on Sept. 11.

Acting Mayor Thomas Menino, who wants the job full-time, voted against the contract as an ex-officio member of the committee. Also voting against it was Alfreda J. Harris, who was appointed to the school committee by Mr. Menino just days before the vote. She replaced a committee member who resigned.

Edward Doherty, the president of the teachers' union, said it was going to court to challenge Mr. Menino's right, as acting mayor, to appoint Ms. Harris to the committee. The union also questions whether the new committee member has a conflict of interest because her daughter-in-law is a Boston teacher and union member.

Howard Leibowitz, the acting mayor's press secretary, said Boston's corporation counsel issued an opinion stating that Ms. Harris has no conflict of interest and that Mr. Menino had a duty to fill the school committee vacancy.

That appointment, however, will expire after a new mayor is elected.

The union's executive committee also decided last week to take a strike vote at its Oct. 13 membership meeting. If union members vote to strike, the walkout would start on Nov. 12, after Boston's next mayor takes office.

At the same time, the union is prepared to go back to the bargaining table to try to reach another agreement, Mr. Doherty said.

"The membership supports the spirit of innovation and collaboration that characterizes this contract,'' he said. "They think it has the potential for making a dramatic change in the culture of public schools in Boston. But they are also extraordinarily frustrated at the way this contract, and the public schools, have gotten caught up in the mayoral debates.''

Both Mr. Doherty and Paul Parks, the chairman of the school committee, said no new talks would begin until after the Sept. 21 preliminary election, in which eight candidates are competing. The top two finishers will face off in the Nov. 2 election. (See Education Week, Sept. 15, 1993.)

"Neither of us is willing to get mangled in that again,'' Mr. Parks said of the bickering over the contract that erupted among the mayoral contenders. "With eight people running, and everyone feeling that they've got to take a shot, it's important that we sort of pull back from this.''

The rejected agreement would have raised teachers' base salaries by 11 percent over three years. It also would have provided a 3.5 percent raise in the last year for teaching an extra 15 minutes a day, money for senior teachers, and financial incentives for reforms.

Mr. Menino and other candidates argued that the contract was too expensive and debated whether its reforms were worth the price.

The school committee chairman also said he remains "adamant'' that teachers not receive raises without committing themselves to reforms.

Activity Elsewhere

Across the nation, contract disputes were resolved last week in three of the 12 districts with teachers' strikes, according to the National Education Association.

Teachers walked off the job in five more districts in Pennsylvania and Illinois, where most of the recent strikes have taken place.

National union officals continued to watch developments in Cleveland closely.

This week, the American Federation of Teachers affiliate in that city was expected to reject a third- party report that advised the union to accept the district's last contract offer with minor changes, said Richard DeColibus, the president of the union. Even if the plan is voted down, he said, the union will move to resume negotiations in order to avoid a strike.

Staff Writer Joanna Richardson contributed to this report.

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