Thousands of Teachers Strike in New Orleans; City’s First Walkout Since ’78
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Thousands of teachers struck New Orleans public schools Monday in a contract dispute over working conditions and $400,000 worth of health benefits - the city’s first teachers’ strike since 1978.
″We’re not striking just for money. . . . We’re looking for professional respect,″ said sixth-grade teacher Katy Hall, one of a half-dozen teachers picketing Lafayette Elementary School before dawn. ″I think the public looks upon us only as professional baby sitters.″
″Maybe one in 10 toilets work. There’s no toilet paper. No teaching supplies. No ditto paper. There’s always a shortage of textbooks,″ said Joseph ″Wally″ Johnson, who teaches computer science at Lafayette.
Frank Fudesco, the board’s chief negotiator, denied that there was any shortage of toilet tissue.
Union and school board officials said they did not know how many of the 84,000 students were in class or how many of the 5,000 teachers crossed picket lines. Principals who were called for spot checks said 75 to 90 percent of their students were in.
Parents of some emotionally disturbed or educationally disabled children were told that classes for their children were canceled. Otherwise, the school board said classes would continue as usual.
No contract talks were scheduled.
Also starting strikes Monday were two districts in Pennsylvania: Cumberland Valley in Cumberland County, with 6,457 students at 10 schools and 425 teachers, and Penn-Delco in Delaware County, with 3,000 students at six schools and 187 teachers.
New Orleans union president Nat Lacour said the Orleans Parish School Board’s refusal to pay $400,000 in health insurance premiums triggered the strike.
The teachers scaled back their request over the weekend to $1 million in additional health benefits. The school board turned them down and stuck to the $600,000 it had offered.
″We cannot give what we do not have,″ said Fudesco.
Sharon Delahoussaye, picket captain at Lusher Elementary, said premiums went up from $500 to $800 a person this year. The union wants the board to cover half the $300 difference, she said.
″The board’s first proposal was for $50 a person. The second was for $100. We’re asking $150 a person,″ said Delahoussaye.
Lacour reinstated demands, dropped during earlier bargaining, for a $45 million package that includes 10 percent annual pay raises for the teachers plus 1,100 teachers’ aides and school secretaries.
Louisiana teachers get much of their pay from the state, which increased its share 7 percent this year. The state now pays $14,472 for a starting teacher with a bachelors degree and $25,737 for someone with a doctorate and 25 years experience, said W.J. Cleveland, of the fiscal office for the state Education Department.
Some poor rural poarishes don’t add anything to that. Cleveland estimated that the average parish supplement is $3,500.
New Orleans adds $4,983 to a starting salary and $9,374 at the top of the scale, so that starting teachers get $19,455 and someone at top gets $35,111.
The city is offering no raise.
The board has raised teachers’ salaries twice since 1983, but Lacour said the increases have been eroded by rising health insurance and retirement costs.