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Teachers in Wash. District End 37-Day-Long Strike

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Calling an end to what had become the longest teachers' strike in Washington state history, teachers in the 2,500-student Fife school district returned to work last week.

The resolution to the 37-day-long strike came after teachers reached a contract settlement with the suburban Tacoma district and agreed to submit to binding arbitration over supplemental-pay issues.

Teachers in the Fife Education Association voted 90-21 on Nov. 14 to ratify the contract. Classes resumed the next day.

The strike began Oct. 9 after teachers refused to accept a proposed pay cut for work done outside the regular school day.

Assistant Superintendent Patti Banks said the district had proposed a cut in the supplemental-pay package to help reduce a $500,000 shortfall in the district's $13 million budget.

The settlement calls for a 30 percent cut this year from the 1994-95 school year's supplemental-pay package, Ms. Banks said.

For next year, the agreement calls for teachers to receive 15 percent less than the 1994-95 supplemental package.

The settlement also clarifies the definition of activities covered by supplemental pay. "I think it's a good compromise settlement," Ms. Banks said.

But the fact that both sides agreed to binding arbitration to review whether the district could afford the current level of supplemental pay was "the key part of it," a teachers' union representative said. John Cahill, a spokesman for the union, said teachers accepted the supplemental-pay cuts with the understanding that the cuts might be restored during arbitration.

On Nov. 13, a Pierce County Superior Court judge had ordered teachers to return to work. The fact that teachers then voted 105-17 to defy the judge's order may have sounded an alarm for the school district, Mr. Cahill said, because negotiations began moving quickly after that vote.

A committee of teachers, parents, administrators, and students planned to draw up a proposal by Nov. 21 for making up the missed school days.

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