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Smattering of School Districts Still Facing Teacher Strikes

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Teachers in the Federal Way, Wash., school district went on strike last week, postponing the opening of school for about 20,000 students in the Seattle suburb.

Their dispute with school officials centers on safety and discipline in the classroom, the lack of physical education in elementary schools, and support for teachers with overcrowded classes or "mainstreamed" special-education students, a union official said.

Also in Washington State, teachers in Bremerton schools walked off the job last week, according to the National Education Association.

There were eight strikes reported last week, including ones in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. That was a slight increase from the previous week, when six school systems were coping with teacher walkouts.

Most of last week's strikes were in districts with fewer than 7,000 students, although the 14,000-student Ann Arbor, Mich., schools were still closed because of a contract dispute. (See Education Week, Sept. 7, 1994.)

David Orr, the secretary of the Ann Arbor teachers' union, said the membership rejected a tentative agreement early last week.

The union and district weredeadlocked over how restructuring efforts would be carried out in middle schools. Teachers also have urged that their contract be extended beyond one year.

"We don't want to go through this again next year," Mr. Orrsaid.

'A Top Priority'

In the Federal Way district, negotiations were stalled last week over adoption of a physical-education program for elementary students and classroom support for teachers.

The contract dispute was unlike those in most other districts, where strikes tend to erupt over pay and health benefits. In Washington State, the legislature regulates teachers' compensation.

The union has asked the district to provide funding for about 30 physical-education teachers at the district's elementary schools, which do not have a permanent program in place.

"We think this is a very top priority," Danny Leaverton, the president of the 1,100-member Federal Way Education Association, said. "We've had this [issue] on the table since 1987."

School officials said they have offered to provide about one-third of the staff the union wants, but teachers have rejected that plan.

Ms. Leaverton said the union is also concerned about dealing with safety and discipline.

Among other issues, the union has proposed that teachers who have students with serious medical conditions in their classes be provided with permanent telephones for emergencies.

Although district officials agreed, they have stipulated that the phones be moved with such students to other classrooms.

Teachers also are seeking extra compensation for assignments to overcrowded classes. But the district has argued that any additional money should be used for more staff and supplies.

District officials said that, while they have no immediate plans to call in substitute teachers, the school board has issued a statement saying it will take such a measure if the strike continues.

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