Harlem Negotiations March On

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

The teachers strike in the Harlem school district continues and school is canceled once again Thursday. Teachers picketed outside the Harlem administration building Wednesday afternoon, as contract negotiations continued.
Teachers complaints are that they are paid less than any surrounding district, which administration calls a product of the district's size, and that newer teachers receive smaller raises per year than those hired before 2004.
Many Harlem students are getting impatient with the delay in starting classes. Now some are following their teachers' example.
Kids hit the street near Maple Elementary asking to go back to school. Both teachers and administrators say they are prepared to trade contract proposals into the night, to get a deal done and have kids in class by Friday.
Superintendent Pat Deluca says they talked health insurance Wednesday, with a consultant present. Deluca says if the strike is not over by September 1st, teachers will have to start paying their own insurance premiums. That's about $500 a month for a single employee, increasing with dependents. That has many teachers worried, but Deluca hopes it won't come to that.
"I would not meet if I didn't think we could settle tonight and I will not meet unless I think we can settle at another session," says Deluca.
"This is a pretty urgent situation. The kids belong in school, the teachers to a person want to be in school. The community deserves and expects to have their children in school," adds Harlem teacher Kevin Jensen.
Support staff will not have to pay their insurance premiums, because they have already reached a contract deal. They still cannot go back to work until teachers do. A federal mediator was present at Wednesday's talks.
As of 11:00 Wednesday night, an agreement had not been reached. The administration's latest offer was to increase teachers' pay by an average of 6%. They're also offering 100% individual employee coverage through the length of the contract. Next year dependent coverage insurance premiums would remain the same. For 08-09, the board would pay increased costs up to 10% from the year before. Costs beyond that would be shared equally between employees and the board.
If negotiators reach an agreement sometime Wednesday night or early morning, students could be back in school by Friday.


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