The president of the Shaler Area Education Association said she is skeptical that the district's return to fact-finding will bring the two sides closer to a contract settlement.
"It doesn't have a history leading to settlement," said Melissa Ravas, a math teacher at the high school and president of the education association. "The last time, the board didn't even have enough people to vote on it at their meeting. We unanimously rejected it."
Shaler Area School District teachers have been working without a contract since August 2011. Administrators appointed a fact-finder from the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in November 2011. Fact-finding is invoked when there's an impasse in mediation. The fact-finder's job is to hear both sides and develop a settlement that is accepted by both parties. If either side does not approve the findings, mediation continues. That is what happened when the school board did not have a quorum at voting time a little more than a year ago.
Negotiations continued on at least a monthly basis with both sides communicating through a mediator.
Following the March 26 negotiating session, the district returned to the fact-finding process. "They told us that was what they were going to do," Mrs. Ravas said. "They told us it was going to make us closer."
Mrs. Ravas said working without a contract the past two school years has been hard on morale. "It's been very difficult." In November 2012, the education association authorized their leadership to call a strike. Even with the permission of its membership, the group continued working without a contract.
"Once fact-finding has been requested, you can't strike," Mrs. Ravas said. "That could be construed as a stall tactic. They've been doing it all along. I'm not sure what they hope to gain from it."
She said the district has successfully reached agreements with the other workers, including the clerical union. Only the teachers are without a new contract. "We view it as they place no value on the work we do with the kids in the classroom every day."
The community has been wonderfully supportive, Mrs. Ravas said. "The school board claims they value our contributions, but their actions don't seem to support this."
The state fact-finder was appointed April 10. With legal requirements for hearings and two voting windows, the process could take up to 60 days, Mrs. Ravas said, "which would put us close to the end of the school year."
Rita Michel, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org