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After five months away from the bargaining table, negotiators for the Tonawanda City School Board and teachers are due to resume talks next Tuesday, the teachers union announced Monday.

"I look forward to finally being able to do something," said Carole Barnard, president of the Tonawanda Education Association. "This is day 511 (without a contract)."

The union, which represents the district's 220 teachers, guidance counselors, teaching assistants and other staff, has been without a contract since July 1, 1997.

The dispute, which board members say centers around pay and health benefits, has been in mediation for several months.

A fact-finding report is due in mid-December, and that was the impetus, Superintendent Diana D. Greene said, for approaching the union about resuming talks.

"We are trying to resolve this before the fact-finding report comes in," she said after the School Board's meeting Monday.

Ms. Barnard pointed out that with fact-finding, "you take a gamble. You don't know what you're going to get."

Before Monday's meeting, about 100 members of the teachers union picketed in front of the junior high school for about 45 minutes to call attention to the stalled talks. After that, they packed the board meeting and -- as they have in the past -- peppered the board with combative questions about a wide range of subjects, such a lack of science textbooks and a flap a few weeks ago in which Ms. Greene reversed a decision of a student adviser to suspend three cheerleaders.

Ms. Barnard said the union intends now to set up "informational" picket lines before each board meeting until the contract is settled.

The board voted to create position of computer technology coordinator. The district is opening the job up to insiders first. If it goes outside, the salary will be $45,000 a year.

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