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 school teachers yesterday afternoon approved a new three-year contract three months before the current one expires Aug. 31.

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

In a joint statement released last night, the archdiocese and the union gave some details of the tentative agreement:

Union members will receive salary increases of $1,750, $1,900 and $2,000, representing a raise over three years of about 11.9 percent. As for health-care benefits, there will be increases in employee contributions in the first and third year of the contract, and bumps in doctor and prescription co-pays in the second year.

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

But in this month's union newsletter, union president Rita 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 the unionized teachers were set to strike.

And in 2003, a 13-day strike caused students to miss five days of instruction, which they had to make up later that academic year.

The union 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.