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Jersey City, N.J., Teachers Strike

November 19, 1998 GMT

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) _ Teachers in the state’s second largest school system staffed the picket lines instead of the classroom today while administrators and police struggled to control unruly students.

Carrying signs that read, ``It’s about dignity, not dollars,″ and ``No contract, no work,″ striking union members marched outside schools throughout the district.

The Jersey City Education Association, which represents 2,500 teachers and 1,000 teacher’s aides and support staff, called the strike at 1:30 a.m. after nearly 10 hours of failed negotiations.

Joanne Kenny, executive assistant to the superintendent of schools, said the school district planned to ask a court for an injunction to end the strike.

The district’s 39 schools opened at 8:30 a.m., staffed by administrators and 200 substitute teachers. The district has more than 32,000 students.

Union spokeswoman Karen Joseph said teachers are upset about proposals to cut 15 minutes from a 45-minute lunch period, add two days to the school year and add 25 minutes to the high school day. The union also wants to change the way teachers are evaluated.

``This strike is not about money,″ said Kenneth Byrd, a business teacher at Lincoln High School. ``The most important issue is our dignity. They’re making us like machines.″

But school officials say teachers are unhappy about salary. Teachers with more than 20 years of experience earn $69,450, and would earn $73,950 in the third year of the proposed contract, Kenny said. The average teacher salary in Jersey City is $56,100, about $5,000 above the state average.

About 150 students who were kicked out of Lincoln High for unruly behavior milled around outside at midmorning. Sgt. Edgar Martinez of the Jersey City Police Department said between 150 and 180 police were being reassigned in order to place officers at every school.

Jersey City is one of three districts _ along with Newark, the state’s largest district, and Paterson _ under a state takeover. It has been run by the state Department of Education since 1989.

Teachers last went on strike in 1976 for three days. A 1970 strike lasted 30 days.