Maple teachers finally return to classrooms

MAPLE HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) - Teachers in Maple Heights returned to class on Wednesday, more than a day after they tentatively approved a contract proposal to end their two-month strike.

"I'm pleased they are back, and now both sides we will have to work toward normalcy. I pledge to work as hard as possible to that end," Superintendent Henry Rish said.

Union negotiators signed off on the tentative agreement Tuesday evening after working out some remaining concerns teachers had during a meeting with the board, Rish said.

About 200 of the 235 members of the Maple Heights Education Association unofficially voted at a meeting Monday night to agree to the contract reached with the help of federal mediators. The teachers' official vote will be Friday, union President Toni Bednarik said.

The school board in the Cleveland suburb approved the contract in a 5-0 vote Tuesday morning, Rish said.

Classes for the district's 4,800 students have continued with replacement teachers, many of whom showed up at the school on Wednesday because late negotiations kept the district from calling them off the night before.

Rish said the deal gives teachers pay raises of 3 percent in the first year and 3.5 percent in the second, matching the board's Oct. 2 offer.

The union most recently had been seeking pay raises of 5 percent and 3.5 percent, said Jack Buettner, regional director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

The compromise gives teachers $30,000 to split as reimbursement for graduate study and extra pay at their regular rate when they have to work through lunch.

"There are some things that are good about the package that we've been fighting about a long time," Bednarik said. "And there are some disappointing things in there."

The proposal was drawn up during a nine-hour negotiating session that began Sunday afternoon and ended early Monday and included Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, Buettner said.

"We believe, even though things may not be ideal, that this is something both can live with," Buettner said.

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