Some agreement on smaller issues was reached at the most recent negotiating session between Shaler Area School District and its teachers union, according to district Superintendent Wes Shipley, who said he was encouraged by the progress.
The district's have been working without a contract since August 2011.
The session Jan. 24 lasted more than three hours, with both sides sitting in separate rooms and a mediator presenting options.
School board President James Giel agreed that a little progress had occurred, but said the bigger issues of wage and benefit costs remain unsettled, as does class sizes -- the latest issue brought by teachers.
Mr. Giel said even though some district classrooms can have as many as 25 children, aides are provided to help teachers. He said often special-needs children are pulled out of classes to receive one-on-one instruction. He cited a lack of funds due to state budget cuts and laws that limit how much the district can raise the tax rate without a voter referendum.
"We've been prudent with our finances," he said, noting that over the years, the district's business office has put aside money for state pension plan increases even before required by law.
"The teachers must understand we can only raise our millage rate by 1.7 percent this year, about $800,000," Mr. Giel said. "From a financial standpoint, our hands our tied." The teacher payroll currently is $25 million.
He also said teachers must accept that their portion of health care costs must increase. Currently, according to Mr. Giel, Shaler Area Education Association members pay less than 10 percent of those costs.
Melissa Ravas, a high school math teacher and union president, agreed some progress had occurred on matters related to working condition, but she was not happy about a new proposal that teachers contribute 19 percent more for their health care.
Negotiators will meet again Feb. 28.
Rita Michel, freelance writer: email@example.com.