Arkansas’ First-Ever Teachers Strike Begins in Little Rock
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Classrooms closed Friday across Arkansas’ largest school district as more than 1,200 teachers walked off their jobs in the first teacher strike in state history.
Since schools started opening across the nation in late August, walkouts by teachers have disrupted classes for more than 700,000 students. As of Friday, teachers remained on picket lines in seven states, affecting some 500,000 students.
In Little Rock, negotiators for the Classroom Teachers Association left the headquarters of the 26,000-pupil school district after an eight-hour bargaining session ran about 15 minutes past a 5 a.m. strike deadline, said union president Grainger Ledbetter.
Later in the day, the district asked a court in Little Rock to stop the strike, which the district said was illegal. A hearing on the district’s request for a temporary restraining order, set for late Friday, was postponed until Monday after one judge stepped aside and another said he wanted to wait.
The district said no talks were scheduled and that school would be in session Monday, using substitute teachers if necessary.
Attorney General Steve Clark said a teachers strike would be a criminal obstruction of a government operation, but the prosecutor at Little Rock, who is the official with the authority to file charges, disagreed.
Prosecutor Chris Piazza said a peaceful strike would not violate a felony statute prohibiting disruption of a vital public facility, because that involves taking action to incapacitate the facility or damage property.
″We’re definitely not going to go out and arrest any teachers,″ he said. Also Friday, the neighboring North Little Rock School District, which sends some of its children to six magnet schools in Little Rock, filed a motion in federal court to get the magnet-school teachers back to work. About 250 to 300 teachers work at the magnet schools, North Little Rock attorney Philip Lyon said.
During the talks, the district made three offers, all for a 5 percent pay increase and with only minor changes in contract language, Ledbetter said.
″Three strikes and you’re out on strike,″ said Ledbetter.
The teachers’ original demand was for 17 percent, and had been revised to 10 percent. The district estimated its offer was worth 7 percent to 11 percent, depending on the experience of the teacher.
Becky Rather, spokeswoman for the district, said the future of talks depended on the union, whose membership comprises about two-thirds of the district’s 1,800 teachers.
District acting administrator Vance Jones said the district could seek an injunction to halt the strike if necessary and that firing striking teachers was an option.
The starting salary for teachers in the district was $14,300 last year, with a top salary of $26,700. The average is about $24,000.
In Chicago, a strike by 28,000 teachers entered its 14th day with no sign of a settlement.
The Chicago Teachers Union wants a raise of 9 percent in the first year of a two-year pact, but the school board is not moving from its offer of 0.5 percent, said Board of Education spokesman Bob Saigh.
Teachers walked out Sept. 8, one day before the start of the school year, closing schools to 430,000 students in the nation’s third-largest district.
The average teacher’s salary in the Chicago public schools is $27,900.
In New Jersey, students in Plainfield attended their first full day of classes Friday after school employees reached a tentative contract agreement and ended a nine-day walkout.
Another round of talks was scheduled for Sunday in Elizabeth, where teachers have been on strike for 18 days.
In Michigan, school officials and teachers in Gibraltar bargained in a judge’s chambers Friday, while Cassopolis teachers and service employees prepared to resume work Monday under a tentative pact.
Only one other strike was under way in that state Friday, a walkout idling 75 teachers and 1,568 students in West Iron County, the Michigan Education Association said.
The 72 Gibraltar teachers have been on strike since Sept. 8, idling 3,833 students.
Teachers in Detroit, who returned to work Monday after a three-week strike, are still scheduled for a ratification vote on their contract next week, with results to be compiled by Wednesday night, the Detroit Federation of Teachers said.
In Washington, teachers in Edmonds voted overwhelmingly to ratify a contract and end a month-long strike in the Seattle suburb. The five-member school board unanimously approved the contract Friday, and school officials said classes will begin Monday.
The strike by some 900 teachers, counselors and other certificated staff had delayed the start of classes for about 17,500 students. Agreement was announced Thursday morning after 25 hours of talks and about 20 minutes before the start of a court hearing on a request by school officials for a back-to- work order.
Class size had been the main issue in the walkout, which began Aug. 27 and was one of the longest by teachers in state history. The union did not get a class size lid, but accepted language that guarantees most teachers with overcrowded classes will get help from aides and up to $4,500 a year for extra supplies.
In Ohio, the no new talks were scheduled in a strike by Youngstown teachers which began Sept. 9.
The 1,043 striking teachers in the 15,500-student district are seeking pay raises of at least 4 percent.
Strikes also continued in Norton, Mass., and in five disticts in Pennsylvania.