Teacher wages frozen in first two years of contract in Steel Valley

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Steel Valley School District has released details of the three-year teachers' contract approved earlier this month.

The contract includes a wage and step freeze in years one and two and a one-time additional salary increase of $500 during the agreement's second year.

During the third year, each teacher in the Steel Valley Education Association, the teachers' union, will move up one step in salary, and a 1.5 percent wage increase will be added to the top of the scale.

Year one of the new contract was the 2011-12 school year, year two is the current school year and year three will be 2013-14.

The teachers' contract expired June 30, 2011.

Teachers now pay $10 per month for individual health insurance coverage and $20 per month for family coverage.

During the first and second years of the agreement, their health care contributions will not increase. In the third year, teachers' individual payments increase to $40 per month for individuals and $80 per month for family coverage.

In a press release, superintendent Ed Wehrer said both the school board and union recognized the district's difficult financial situation.

"State funding is flat, and many costs such as health care and pension obligations are increasing. The school district made the tough decision to furlough many employees after the 2010-2011 school year, and I do not want to see that happen again. This agreement helps put the school district in a stronger financial position going forward, so both the board and the association should be commended," he said in the release.

Education Association president Kevin Tomasic said he and others on the negotiating team felt relief when the board accepted the contract earlier this month. Negotiations had begun in August 2010.

Union members considered the proposal of Michelle Miller-Kotula, a fact-finder assigned by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board and the district's financial situation during negotiations, he said.

"Everyone felt [the contract] was a fair deal; otherwise it wouldn't have passed," he said.

A majority of the 120 teachers in the union voted for the contract, he said.

Most of those teachers are full time, according to Mr. Tomasic.

After the special meeting Oct. 11 at which the board approved the contract, Director Mike Terrick said that though he voted for the agreement, he was concerned because he couldn't find proof that former school directors voted to make four jobs in the contract -- two academic coach teaching positions, the athletic director's job and an unfilled dean of students position -- bargaining unit positions.

Bargaining unit positions are very difficult to eliminate if the district must reduce costs, Mr. Terrick said.

Mr. Tomasic provided a link to a September 2006 district document showing school directors made one elementary academic literacy coach position, one elementary math coach position and one secondary math coach position permanent jobs.

He also provided a link showing the athletic director's job had become a permanent, full-time position Oct. 24, 2006.

After the district's furloughs in spring 2011, only two secondary academic coach positions -- one in English and one in math -- remained, Mr. Tomasic said.

He said the athletic director's position was also made part time during the furloughs, and the dean of students position was eliminated.

In April 2011, the school board voted to furlough 40 teachers, counselors and other professional staff and to furlough 15 support personnel in response to cuts in the state education budget.

In August, business manager Mark Cherpak said 23.5 of the 40.5 teachers furloughed in 2011 were still on the furlough list.

education - neigh_south

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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