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Denver Teachers Head Back to Classroom as Strike Ends

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A bitter teacher's strike in Denver ended last week after Gov. Roy Romer intervened and helped devise a compromise that will guarantee minimum working conditions for teachers while maintaining the decisionmaking authority of local school councils.

The walkout, which had started one week earlier and was the first in that city in 25 years, was prompted by a dispute over the power of the local councils to decide such issues as planning time and the length of the workweek. (See Education Week, Oct. 19, 1994.)

Governor Romer instituted the councils three years ago in each of Denver's 107 schools as part of a reform experiment designed to bring decisionmaking to the local level. The councils are made up of parents, teachers, the principal, and a member of the business community, and have authority over instructional programs, the budget, and staffing.

But teachers want the union--not the local councils--to have authority over working conditions.

School board members were concerned that stiffening contract requirements would dilute the power of the councils to decide issues locally.

An estimated 2,500 teachers were on the picket lines, and more than a third of the district's 62,000 students stayed home. The district used more than 1,000 substitute teachers and an equal number of teachers who crossed picket lines to keep the schools open.

But teachers voted nearly unanimously Oct. 15 to approve a contract settlement, which Governor Romer helped negotiate during three days of marathon sessions between the Denver Classroom Teachers' Association and the school board.

"I think teachers feel really positive" about the contract, Leonard Fox, the president of the teachers' union, said.

The contract defines minimum working conditions for teachers. It allows teachers 45-minute duty-free lunch periods, approximately four hours a week of uninterrupted planning time, a 190-day school year, a 40-hour workweek, and limits on class size.

Teachers were not granted their request to have a union-member representative fill one of the designated teacher seats on local school councils. But union officials said the designation of working conditions in the collective-bargaining agreement alleviated that need. District officials, meanwhile, were granted their request for an additional parent seat on the councils.

Principals will keep their power to veto council decisions--which the union had wanted to change--but an appeals process will be set up to keep their authority in check.

Teachers will receive a 2.15 percent salary increase in addition to other education- and experience-based increments. The total salary package will amount to $5.1 million--nearly the halfway point between the union's $6 million request and the school board's original $4 million offer.

Strikes Elsewhere

In Anchorage, 2,900 teachers and 48,000 students also headed back to school last week after a three-day strike. Teachers there accepted a compromise agreement that included raises based on experience and training.

Teachers in the 12,000-student North Penn school district in suburban Philadelphia walked out last week, protesting their lack of a contract. Teachers and district officials there have been deadlocked for almost a year over salary increases and medical insurance co-payments.

And two suburban Chicago school districts, Crete-Monee and Round Lake, canceled classes after more than 300 teachers struck over class sizes, health and safety issues, and salary.

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