Parents and students at the 20 high schools operated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia won't have to spend their summer wondering whether school will open on time in the fall.

Catholic high teachers this afternoon approved a new three-year contract three months before the current one expires Aug. 31.

At a meeting at Penns Landing Caterers on South Columbus Boulevard, lay teachers represented by Local 1776 of the Association of Catholic Teachers ratified the pact.

Union president Rita Schwartz said tonight that the union and the archdiocese were scheduled to jointly release details of the agreement tomorrow.

In October, the union leadership and Bishop Joseph P. McFadden signed a memorandum agreeing to a streamlined negotiating process to ensure a new contract would be in place by June.

Talks were limited to salaries and benefits.

The goal, they said, was to spare parents, staff, and nearly 20,000 Catholic high school students anxiety.

McFadden, an auxiliary bishop who oversees education in the five-county Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said earlier this year that it seemed like a waste of time to spend weeks reviewing contract language that had been hammered out during four decades of negotiations.

In this month's union newsletter, Schwartz warned the members that if a new contract was not ratified by June, the archdiocese and the union "would resume traditional bargaining and both sides would present proposals on all articles and sections of the contract."

Two years ago, the contract was ratified three hours before teachers at the Catholic high schools were set to strike. A 13-day strike in 2003 caused students to miss five days of class, which they had to make up later that academic year.

The association represents about 950 lay instructors. Instructors at Catholic elementary schools are not unionized.

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.