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Teachers Strike San Diego Schools

February 1, 1996

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Teachers in California’s second-largest school district traded chalk for picket signs today after marathon contract negotiations broke down in a flurry of finger pointing.

The San Diego Unified School District’s first strike since 1977 began at 6 a.m. today. Within minutes, teachers were pacing the pavement carrying picket signs outside the district’s schools.

``My income could be better. I’m hurting,″ said Eric Burgston, a chemistry teacher at Kearny High School. He was among a dozen sign-toting teachers outside the campus today.

At Brooklyn Elementary School, some students hugged their teachers in a driving rain before running into the school. Others looked confused as they watched their regular teachers picket in front of the school.

``They should pay teachers more,″ said Joel Garcia, a third-grader.

With 130,000 students and 160 schools, the district is the eighth-largest in the United States. The union’s 6,500 teachers voted by a 3-to-1 margin Wednesday to walk off the job.

``I’m out here because we haven’t had a raise in five years,″ said Dawn Swanson, a Kearny High counselor with seven years of teaching experience.

Superintendent Bertha Pendleton told parents to send their students to school. The district has been lining up possible replacements for months, she said.

Talks between the teachers’ union and school district broke down despite a 14-hour negotiation session that started at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Both sides left the negotiations assigning blame.

``This is hogwash,″ said Bill Harju, executive director of the San Diego Teachers Association. ``They broke it off. They’re walking out.″

Norma Trost, spokeswoman for the San Diego Unified School District, said it was the union’s refusal to postpone the strike that caused the talks to break down.

``We can’t fully analyze their report in this short time period,″ Trost said. ``We have asked the union to delay the strike while we continue mediation. Our request was rejected.″

The average salary for city teachers is $40,000, which is among the lowest in San Diego County, union officials said. Salaries range from $24,600 to $48,600.

The district offered an 11 percent pay increase over three years, which would cost $104 million. The union had demanded a 15 percent raise.