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Contract Approval in Cleveland Ends Threat of Strike

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Members of the Cleveland Teachers' Union last week narrowly approved the school board's last contract offer, ending the threat of a strike in the 74,000-student district.

Fifty-three percent of the union's 6,000 members voted to accept the new pact, which would give teachers no raise this year, a 2 percent raise in 1994-95, and a 6 percent increase in 1995-96, said Richard DeColibus, the union president.

Teachers and school officials have been deadlocked in negotiations since the beginning of the school year, after the union turned down the board's initial contract offer, which would have increased pay a total of 3 percent over three years. (See Education Week, Oct. 13, 1993.)

The union had threatened several times since the dispute began to stage a walkout.

Mr. DeColibus said the union's close vote to accept the offer was evidence that "the level of frustration out there is still extremely high.''

The Cleveland school board also endorsed the contract last week.

In Boston, meanwhile, district officials and the teachers' union could move back to the bargaining table this week.

The school committee there last week voted to reopen negotiations with the union as soon as possible, said Larry Faison, a spokesman for the committee.

The talks stalled last month after the committee rejected as too expensive a contract that would have increased teachers' salaries by 11 percent over three years, and the union filed a lawsuit challenging the committee's decision. (See Education Week, Oct. 20, 1993.)

The lawsuit--which contested the vote on the grounds that one committee member had not been properly appointed--was dropped when the court indicated that the union did not have the legal authority to file the claim, according to Mr. Faison.

He added that school officials "hope that a walkout will be averted'' if union officials agree to reopen contract talks.

However, the Boston Teachers' Union was still scheduled to launch a one-day walkout Oct. 27--and a full-scale strike on Nov. 12--if no agreement is reached.

'State of Confrontation'

The Denver Classroom Teachers' Association this week is expected to vote on the district's offer to give teachers a 1 percent pay raise, effective April 1994, in lieu of an agreed-upon 3.5 percent raise this year, said Leonard Fox, the union president.

The district, which failed to include the earlier raise in this year's school budget due to a $30 million shortfall, made the new offer to the union after a court-appointed mediator opened new talks.

Mr. Fox said the union leadership has recommended that the rank and file reject the raise. If the membership does vote down the pay hike, the union's breach-of-contract lawsuit against the district will be revived, he added.

Patty Murphy, a spokeswoman for the district, said last week that if the union rejects the offer "it will keep us in a state of confrontation.''

Relations between the union and the board were tense this month, as hundreds of the district's 4,000 teachers called in sick to protest the scaled-back salary package. Students also organized rallies or walked out of classes in support of the teachers.

Elsewhere, only four teachers' strikes continued last week, in small districts in Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, according to the National Education Association.

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