Pine Richland teachers roll out public support in labor talks with district

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Former teachers, board members and administrators spoke in support of Pine-Richland teachers in ongoing contract negotiations before an audience of more than 200 during the public comment portion of Monday night’s school board meeting.

One reason for the large crowd was a call to action from David Fiore, Pine‐Richland Education Association’s labor council business manager to the AFL-CIO labor community, to support the teachers and their negotiating team.

No one from the school board or the district spoke about the contract.

Patricia Dunkis, who once served in the district as interim assistant principal at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School, said, “It’s an embarrassment that our teachers have worked so long without a contract.”

Joseph Merhaut, a former Pine-Richland school director, said an environment of instability is created in the schools when teachers work without a contract. He also urged the board and union to work together and to remember, “We are here to serve our students.”

Comparisons to surrounding school districts such as North Allegheny and Fox Chapel were made by the speakers, who pointed out that the once-rural Pine-Richland is now surrounded by mansions and should be able to maintain educational excellence on par with its neighbors.

After the meeting, Trent Matteson, PREA president, said he was pleased with the public comments.

"Tonight was about how our teachers and the community support the negotiations team," he said, noting he’s been disheartened that there have been more than 40 negotiation sessions during the past nearly two years, to no avail.

“Our teachers have given so much to our community, and they deserve to work under a fair and equitable contract,” he said.

From 2010 to 2012, teachers agreed to an effective salary freeze in order to help the school district cope with state cuts to education funding. Since 2012, teachers have been working without a contract and no thaw in the pay freeze.

School directors had voted to approve a third-party fact-finding report, believing “it represents a reasonable compromise regarding the outstanding issues and should move the parties towards a settlement,” according to a district statement.

Mr. Fiore said the teachers rejected the fact‐finder’s recommendation “due to its unfair five-year salary freeze for top teachers and its unilateral elimination of the cost savings early retirement incentive,” noting 31 out of 43 school districts in Allegheny County offer some form of an early retirement incentive that has been shown to save money for their districts.

Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer:

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