Kids Wander Halls While Teachers Strike

By M.R. KROPKO, Associated Press Writer

MAPLE HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) - With teachers on strike, Maple Heights High School students wandered the halls, damaged property and made it hard for substitutes to keep control Wednesday.

Teachers began the strike Wednesday just before the start of classes.

"It's not a normal situation, and it's not a normal day," said Henry Rish, superintendent of the 3,958-student district's five schools. He said 75 substitutes and security guards tried to maintain normalcy.

Teachers represented by the Maple Heights Teachers Association met Tuesday night and decided to strike after mediated talks broke down. Their contract expired Saturday.

Rish said the teachers turned down a proposed 10-day "cooling off period."

He attributed unruly behavior in the suburban Cleveland high school to a situation the students did not understand.

"There were some situations of kids walking around and doing some things they probably normally would not do," Rish said. "There was a television on a cart that was pushed down some stairs. That can happen at any school, anywhere. The main thing is no one was hurt. It was just property damage."

Chris Bates, a senior, left the school grounds for lunch and said the scene was "crazy."

"Everyone is just walking around," he said. "It's crazy, but so funny, though. People are throwing things, a TV, too. It's not so funny that we're not learning. There's no control at all."

Anthony Peck went into the high school trying to find his son, a ninth grader. He came out worried and without his son.

"I can't find him. They have no idea where he's at," Peck said. "They (students) are throwing tables in there."

The teaching staff of 262 sought a 6 percent pay increase each year for the next three years to compensate for being among the lowest-paid teachers in Cuyahoga County. The district offered a 2.5 percent increase in each of the next two years.

Teachers earned an average of $39,000 under the old contract. The starting teacher salary is $27,936.

District Treasurer Chris Krause said the schools couldn't afford the teacher demands. Two proposed tax increases were defeated by voters this year.

"We just want to be compensated for the good job we do," said Thomas Osborne, a high school teacher who was on a picket line Wednesday.

"There are other issues involved," he said. "We have been treated like children by the administration, and the district is run by threats and intimidation."

Rish denied any attempt to intimidate the teaching staff.

"I wanted to talk to them about their responsibilities and that we didn't want a strike, and I said it in a letter," Rish said. "I don't think that's intimidation, it's information."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)