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Teacher Contract Disputes in Several Urban Districts Heat Up

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More than a month into the new school year, several urban school districts are still locked in contract disputes over teachers' pay and benefits.

While there appeared to be no immediate threat of a walkout in those school systems, a dozen affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers were on strike last week in small districts in Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, according to the N.E.A. (See Education Week, Sept. 22, 1993.)

The largest teachers' strike, in the 24,000-student Youngstown, Ohio, schools, was settled when the union accepted the district's contract offer last week.

But most of the battles in the cash-strapped urban districts were heating up, as the unions filed legal challenges or organized protests disputing the fairness of the cost-of-living raises or salary cuts included in contracts.

In Boston, negotiations stalled between the school committee and the teachers' union late last month, after the committee rejected as too expensive a tentative agreement that would have raised teachers' salaries by 11 percent over three years.

The union challenged the decision in court last week, arguing that Acting Mayor Thomas Menino--who will face State Rep. James T. Brett in the Nov. 2 mayoral election--did not have the authority to appoint a new school committee member who was among those opposing the pact.

With the court decision pending, the union was expected to take a strike vote this week.

Denver Teachers File Suit

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In Denver, meanwhile, the teachers' union charged that the district has violated a contract negotiated in 1990 by Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, who invoked an obscure state law allowing him to intervene in labor disputes.

The contract stipulated that teachers would receive a 3.5 percent raise for each year of the three-year pact, but the district did not include the raise in its 1993-94 budget, said Leonard Fox, the president of the Denver Teachers' Association.

School officials justified the move by pointing to a Colorado statute that allows salary negotiations to be reopened under multiyear contracts. The union countered that pacts can only be renegotiated by mutual consent.

Last week, the union filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit--which is expected to be considered at a preliminary hearing this week--and the city's teachers continued to organize public protests, Mr. Fox said.

In the District of Columbia public schools, teachers were also contesting what they say is the school district's attempt to abandon part of a salary package brokered last fall.

Work-to-Rule Tactics

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Jimmie Jackson, the president of the 5,500-member Washington Teachers' Union, said the union negotiated a contract with the schools that, among other provisions, gives teachers a 6.5 percent pay increase, retroactive to last October.

While school officials have agreed to furnish that retroactive pay hike, the city council--which has authority over school funds--said last week that it cannot set aside the money necessary to pay for another agreed-upon pay increase retroactive to 1992.

To protest what the they call a breach of contract, union leaders have asked members to adopt a work-to-the-rule policy and refuse to perform any duties outside the regular school day until the district agrees to enforce the contract.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, where teachers have prepared to take a strike vote several times since the beginning of the school year, the union last week agreed to review the district's latest contract offer.

The new pact would give teachers no raise this year, a 2 percent raise in 1994-95, and a 6 percent raise in 1995-96, a slight improvement over the district's original offer, according to Judith L. Oliver, the union's vice president.

Teachers "are still divided'' over whether to accept the plan, she added, but the union is expected to make a final decision later this week on whether to strike.

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