Shaler Area teachers forgoing extra duty

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The Oct. 13 homecoming dance at Shaler Area High School will take place as scheduled, but it's unlikely there will be teacher chaperones at the event.

Teachers, who have been working without a new contract since August 2011, have in recent weeks backed out of extra-duty positions they normally perform.

"We have had some people step up and say they are no longer willing to chaperone," said superintendent Wesley Shipley. "The [teachers union officials] have not formally presented anything to the district saying they are withholding any type of services. But the actions from the majority of the association are that they are working to the rule."

As a result, there was fear among students that the annual homecoming dance and parade might be canceled because both activities are normally supervised by teachers. But, Mr. Shipley said, the district has been able to recruit enough alternate chaperones from the administration, parents and school directors. All of the substitute chaperones will have security clearances, the superintendent said.

The rumor that homecoming would be canceled was so persistent in the community that the district has addressed it on its website:

"Please know that there have been several rumors circulating throughout the community regarding a work stoppage and cancellation of district activities. Please know that these in fact are rumors and that all district scheduled activities (Homecoming, WPIAL sports etc.) will continue as planned. There have been some changes to school level activities. All schedule changes will be made and communicated by activity/club sponsors."

Mr. Shipley said administrators have worked to make sure that district-level activities, including all major sports, continue but that some building-level activities such as intramural sports, have been canceled due to the lack of a sponsor.

Shaler Area Education Association President Melissa Ravas said there is no mandate from union officials for teachers to reject their extra-duty work. But she said members recently discussed "some actions to consider" and as a result some teachers have chosen to give up the extra work. She said teachers who made commitments to sports or activities for this season will honor those commitments.

"But it's not sure if anyone will make commitments beyond that," Mrs. Ravas said.

"We hate to see to see our kids get hurt, but we need the district to take the negotiation process seriously and start bargaining in good faith to get a good settlement," Mrs. Ravas said.

She and the superintendent said the two sides held a recent brief negotiation session and have another scheduled for mid-month. Neither side publicly revealed the sticking points in the negotiations. The two sides participated in fact-finding in October 2011, but both sides rejected the fact-finder's report.

In the meantime, some students are planning to attend the Oct. 10 school board meeting to show their support for the teachers, said Sam Bartsch, president of the junior class.

Sam said the group of about 30 students had planned to wear their formal homecoming outfits to the board meeting because they believed there was a possibility the dance would be canceled. Some students may still wear their homecoming clothes "to show what got us started and because prom is still at risk if this continues."

He said the student group supports the teachers because they "have a right to have a contract."

"They have explained to us that they are not trying to hurt us," Sam said. "We understand where the teachers are coming from."

education - neigh_north

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1590.


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