Contract talks drag on for Shaler Area, teachers

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Teachers at Shaler Area School District are considering the latest contract proposal presented by administrators at a long labor negotiation last Thursday.

The hours-long session ended with the five-member negotiating team of the Shaler Area Education Association taking the information back to its larger committee for contemplation.

"We're really hoping to continue making progress," said Melissa Ravas, SAEA president. "We did not respond at that time because we have a slightly larger committee that will meet and develop a counter-proposal."

The additional five committee members of the SAEA consist of a cross-section of teachers representing every school in the district. The negotiating teachers asked for additional meeting dates. Those dates are set for Jan. 15 and 24.

Superintendent Wes Shipley said the latest mediation session consisted of the sides meeting in caucus in separate rooms. In addition to the superintendent, the district's representatives included Charles Bennett, director of business services, and Gary Mignogna, director of human resources. The district's paid counsel, Campbell and Durrant, were not present at the meeting.

Representing the teachers' union were Shauna Hunt, school counselor, Rogers and Burchfield primary schools; Nancy Kraft, math and science, elementary school; Dante Orsini, math, high school; Holly Sabino, math, high school; Mrs. Ravas, math, high school; and Rob Meyers, the PSEA representative.

Following the meeting, Mr. Shipley said the district team presented a different offer from those presented earlier.

"Currently, we don't know where we stand," he said. "We received no response about the offer we put on the table. Our greatest obstacles have always been salary and benefits. And the district's greatest concerns have been to make sure we get a contract that the teachers are happy with and also meet the needs of the community."

For their part, Shaler Area residents spoke out at the Dec. 5 school board meeting. Parents, teachers, retired residents and students nearly filled the middle school auditorium to voice their concerns. The December school board meeting was moved to the auditorium once administrators learned of the appeal planned by students and their parents and neighbors.

The plea was sparked by the SAEA's public notification that its members authorized their leadership to call a strike if an agreement isn't soon reached. The teachers have been working without a contract since August 2011.

Once the business portion of the meeting was completed, residents came forward in the next hour with support for their children's teachers. Class sizes are too big, several said. Others disliked Campbell and Durrant, the lawyers hired to represent the district at negotiations. Some objected to the cost while others pointed out the firm had represented districts where teachers went on strike in the past.

Many parents talked about teachers who have provided extra care and attention to their children when they were struggling, resulting in more confident learners.

Mrs. Ravas and most of the district's 390 teachers also attended the meeting, mostly listening to the comments of both the community and school board. "We were very happy to have the community support," she noted. "It's nice to see that people appreciate our efforts."

Agreeing with those residents who spoke about the negative effect the long contract dispute is having on the students and staff as well as those living in the district, Mr. Shipley said, "It's just been a very disruptive thing. Not having a contract most definitely permeates everything. It's a constant cloud over everyone's head."

education - neigh_north

Rita Michel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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