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Tentative Agreement Ends Strike in E. St. Louis

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Teachers in East St. Louis, Ill., ended a walkout late last week after reaching a tentative agreement in a dispute over a pay raise.

The strike, which closed schools from Sept. 3 to 5, was one of a handful of disputes in school districts across the country over teachers' contracts.

The East St. Louis Federation of Teachers Local 1220 agreed to a new contract that would give teachers a 3.5 percent pay raise and a one-time bonus of one-half percent. The school board must approve the contract.

Teachers had asked for a 5 percent pay increase, while administrators in the 13,000-student district had said they could afford to offer only a 2 percent raise.

The teachers had sought compensation for concessions made last year: working without a salary increase and taking on the cost of insurance coverage for their dependents.

That additional expense "is extremely costly for the members of our bargaining unit," said Everett Stuckey, the president of the 900-member union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

He estimated that employees had to pay about $3,000 of pretax income to cover that premium. Last week's agreement will refund teachers 50 percent of the money they paid last year for dependent-insurance coverage.

Union members, who had been without a contract for more than a year, voted Sept. 1 to go on strike. Both sides had been meeting with a federal mediator since Aug. 28.

The cash-strapped East St. Louis district has long struggled with its finances. Two years ago, the state formed an oversight panel to review and approve all of the district's financial decisions. ("Looking the Other Way," Feb. 15, 1995.)

Though the contract required approval from the oversight board, its members did not have a role in the negotiations, district officials said.

Cleveland Standoff

In Cleveland, teachers and district officials averted a strike last week by extending the teachers' current contract for 10 days.

The temporary contract runs through midnight on Sept. 13. If both sides cannot agree to a settlement, teachers, who returned to school last week, said they would strike Sept. 16.

"Everybody's just walking on pins and needles for the next week or so," said Richard DeColibus, the president of the Cleveland Teachers Union.

Administrators in the 72,000-student district have been joined at the bargaining table by representatives from the Ohio education department, which took control of the district's management last year. The district and the state have insisted on a new contract that would change current work rules and make a total of $22.5 million in cuts in teachers' salaries and benefit packages. ("Cleveland Teachers Threaten Strike," Sept. 4, 1996.)

The district had initially called for a 10 percent pay cut for teachers, but a district spokesman, Rick Ellis, said last week that the $22.5 million could come from a combination of pay and benefit cuts.

The 5,000-member CTU has accused the district and the state of forcing teachers to pay for the financial crisis in the district, which is $152 million in debt. But, Mr. Ellis said last week, "$22.5 million won't even begin to do that."

The union argues that the city has neglected the schools by awarding millions of dollars in tax abatements to commercial building projects. Union leaders are calling for a one-year extension of the current contract.

Meanwhile, teachers in Ar-kansas's second-largest district obeyed a federal judge's order to return to school last week, ending a strike that began Aug. 19.

Teachers and administrators in the 20,500-student Pulaski County Special School District, which includes 38 schools in the Little Rock area, were meeting with a federal mediator to resolve their differences on the contract, district spokeswoman Susie Roberts said last week.

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