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Published in Print: September 24, 2003, as Phila. Strike Reaches End; Others Go On

Phila. Strike Reaches End; Others Go On

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After a 10-day strike, more than 1,000 teachers at Roman Catholic high schools in Philadelphia returned to the classroom after accepting a new three-year contract last week from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Some 23,000 students enrolled in Catholic high schools there missed six days of classes because of the strike and will have to make the time up later in the school year.

"Grudgingly, we accepted the contract because the diocese was not willing to move," said Irene Tori, the executive secretary of the Association of Catholic Teachers Local 1776, the union that represents the teachers. Teachers approved the new contract on Sept. 15 by a vote of 486- 434.

"I have said all along that there is no pot of gold, but we did as much as we could for our teachers," Clement J. McGovern, the chief negotiator for the archdiocese, said in a statement.

The new contract provides a cumulative salary increase of 9.1 percent over three years, slightly more than the increase contained in a previous contract proposal that was rejected by the teachers. Ms. Tori said that teachers would have liked to see a greater increase in salary.

The starting salary for any high school teacher with only a bachelor's degree working for the archdiocese is $30,500.

Ms. Tori noted that tuition increased by $180 per high school student this school year, to $3,700, which will raise an estimated $4 million in additional funding for the archdiocese. But she said that only about $1.25 million of that total would be channeled toward teachers as a result of changes in the contract.

"The parents have to begin to question where their money is going," she said.

Catherine L. Rossi, the director of communications for the archdiocese, said that the schools haven't brought in as much money with the tuition increase as the union estimates, and she noted that schools can't collect full tuition from some students. She declined, however, to provide a precise figure for the increase in funding and would not say how much the changes in the teachers' contract would cost the archdiocese.

But Ms. Rossi added that the rise in tuition is needed, in part, to pay for an increase of $3 million in the cost of medical insurance for teachers over the past few years, most of which was absorbed by the archdiocese, as well as an increase in some other operating costs.

Public School Strikes

In other strike news, teachers in two Washington state districts, the 11,000-student Marysville district and the nearby 7,000-student Lake Stevens district, both north of Seattle, continued their walkouts last week. Pay was an issue in both places.

A strike of Benton, Ill., teachers that began Aug. 26 had not been settled as of late last week, leaving some 680 students on an extended summer vacation.

Teachers in the 2,900-student Somerset, Pa., school district, southeast of Pittsburgh, have been off the job since Sept. 8, and under Pennsylvania law could continue their protest until Oct. 7. The teachers, who are striking for the third time since their last contract expired in 2000, want better pay and health-insurance protections.

"We've been warning that [health insurance] is a huge issue," said Kathleen Lyons, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association, the parent of the striking unions. "It's getting ready to explode."

Among American Federation of Teachers affiliates, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago school board remained locked in negotiations. Teachers started the year without a contract.

Assistant Editor Bess Keller contributed to this report.

Vol. 23, Issue 4, Page 5

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