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Striking Teachers Return to Class in San Diego

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Teachers returned to work last week in the San Diego Unified School District after reaching an agreement that ended a strike that began Feb. 1.

The tentative settlement was announced early on Feb. 8 after an all-night negotiating session. The district's 5,825 teachers returned to their classrooms later that morning.

"No one wants to see a community divided, with children caught in the middle," Ann Armstrong, the president of the school board, said in announcing the settlement.

The deal gives members of the San Diego Teachers Association raises totaling 14.7 percent over three years. In its last offer before the strike, the school board had proposed 11 percent, while the union was seeking 15 percent.

Teachers, who are paid an average of $40,500, will get a 5 percent raise retroactive to July 1 and an additional 2 percent next month. In March 1997, teachers will receive a 2 percent raise, followed by a 5 percent increase in February 1998.

These cost-of-living raises are in addition to the salary increases that teachers earn by accumulating education credits and moving up the salary schedule.

About half of the district's teachers are at the top of the pay scale, however. For these employees, the contract includes additional stipends, including $1,500 a year for teachers with 19 to 22 years of service and $3,000 a year for those with at least 23 years.

Beyond Salary Issues

While salaries were a major issue in the strike, the teachers' union also was seeking a greater voice for teachers in shared-decisionmaking teams in the district's 160 schools. (See Education Week, Feb. 7, 1996.)

The union unsuccessfully sought contract language that would give teachers a majority of the seats on the teams. Instead, the agreement sets up a shared-decisionmaking task force that will review school-site governance in the 130,000-student district.

Some parents' groups had strongly objected to giving teachers control over the school teams, which the new contract says will focus primarily on instructional programs.

Walter Kudumu, the director of the Center for Parent Involvement in Education, a local organization whose members staged candlelight vigils during the strike, said giving teachers control of the teams would have rendered parents' representation "minute and inconsequential."

Parents in the district were frustrated, he added, that their children lost instructional time while the union and the district battled.

"When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled," Mr. Kudumu said.

Angry parents packed a school board meeting during the strike to demand a settlement, but it appeared that the public as a whole supported the teachers. In a poll taken the weekend after the strike started, The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper found that 59 percent of the public supported the teachers' action.

Although schools remained open during the strike, classes were staffed by substitutes, administrators, and volunteers.

Attendance was down sharply, with 35 percent of the students absent on the last day of the strike. At some high schools, as many as two-thirds of the students stayed out that day.

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