Harlem Strike Continues

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

The Harlem school board approves a contract for all support staff -- about 450 employees. But contract negotiations continue for the district's 540 teachers. That means no school Wednesday and maybe even Thursday.
Harlem's nearly 8,000 students will have another day off Wednesday and possibly Thursday. But many are not enjoying the added vacation.
"Honestly in the summer I'm usually just sitting at home watching T.V. and I gotta get out there. I gotta do something," says Harlem High Senior Mike Miller.
Teachers and administrators say they're working as fast as they can. Contract negotiations cut short Tuesday after about three and a half hours, because teachers wanted more information about their health insurance package and some financial details. Negotiations will start again Wednesday at 3:00 P.M., with a federal mediator present.
"Once we get this information, you know we're committed to staying the whole day tomorrow and into the night with the mediator and trying to get an agreement done," says Lenny Nieves, chief negotiator for Harlem teachers.
Harlem Schools Superintendent Pat Deluca agrees: "I'll negotiate through the night and I'll sign that contract at any time."
Harlem teachers are paid based on two different pay schedules, depending when teachers were hired. Teachers say the pay scales are inequitable and that teachers in Harlem are paid less than any surrounding school districts. But Deluca says several factors like Harlem's size make it incomparable to other nearby districts.
Nieves rejects that argument: "If they're saying it's an unfair comparison, then you know what, that doesn't change the fact we're losing quality teachers. They're going to other school districts."
The school board did unanimously approve a new contract for support staff Tuesday night. They'll all receive an hourly increase of four percent each year for three years, plus varying hourly cent increases each year.
"That's a substantial increase," Deluca says.
The total cost for salaries and insurance raises is estimated at 3.4 million dollars. Support staff cannot go back to work until teachers do. But Deluca says they plan to reimburse staff for missed days.
The earliest possible restart day is Thursday, if both sides reach an agreement tomorrow and teachers waive their right to 24 hours notice to look over a contract before signing it.
Superintendent Deluca suggests parents read with their kids, practice math, do anything to keep their minds sharp until school starts again. Students will have to make up all missed days. Check out WIFR Sports News for an update on the impact on Harlem sports teams.


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