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Chicago teachers hit picket line. Philadelphia educators get raise, prepare for classes

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 4, 1985



Chicago

For the third time in a row and the eighth time in 16 years, Chicago public schools are closed because of a labor dispute. In many respects, this year's walkout in Chicago fits the pattern of previous school strikes. Teachers are demanding more money while the school board pleads poverty.

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As Chicago teachers formed picket lines, 19,000 Philadelphia teachers yesterday avoided a strike by accepting a three-year contract with wage increases totaling 16 percent. In Chicago, the 3.5 percent raise offered teachers was not enough to get classes going today for the system's 430,000 schoolchildren.

But a few new wrinkles have been introduced into this year's negotiations that could lead to a fairly quick resolution.

Budget surplus. This year, for the first time since a near financial collapse in 1979, the school board started with a projected surplus instead of a deficit. The reason: an Illinois education reform package brought Chicago schools $86.3 million in new money this year.

Because of the new money, many observers expected that the board would be able to meet teacher demands. These observers did not expect a strike.

``I don't think anybody did,'' says William Adelman, labor and industrial relations professor at the University of Illinois. ``It's not something you can predict.''

A possible mediator. At time of writing, Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson was convening both sides to explain a proposal of his own, which would allow the union to get a multiyear contract -- one of its goals in this year's negotiations.

The contract talks have stalled because both sides were far apart in terms of a raise. The board is calling a 3.5 percent raise its final offer. Union president Jacqueline Vaughn called the offer ``business as usual.'' She claims that, as in other years, more money is will be found for teachers. She calls for a 9 percent raise. A 1 percent raise costs about $9 million.

The board so far has remained firm in saying that some of the money should go for new staff and new programs. Since the near collapse in 1979, ``we haven't come up with any major [new] programs for children,'' says school Superintendent Manford Byrd Jr. ``The interest of the children must be protected.''