While it has been a summer of fun and sun for Shaler Area students, it has been hard work and face-to-face meetings for administrators and school board members with their teachers union in hopes of negotiating a new contract by the start of classes on Sept. 3.
The district's 390 teachers, who have been working without a contract for the past two school years, notified the district June 13 they will go on strike when the new school year begins if they have not reached a new contract.
The union rejected a fact-finder's report that had been accepted by the school board.
In a press release, Melissa Ravas, president of the Shaler Area Education Association, said it was "unfortunate" the union had to notify the district it would strike if there is no contract agreement by Sept. 3.
She called the district's contract proposal to the fact-finder "regressive."
Since school ended in mid-June, Shaler Area Education Association leaders and the district's administrative team have met with as many as four of the nine school board members to bargain a new contract.
Sources said among the sticking points are salary, employee contributions to health care and the district's need to assign secondary teachers to a six-period work day.
"Our first two meetings were very productive," said superintendent Wes Shipley, who added that things stalled a bit only at the July meeting. "We've made a lot of progress and now we're down to the most difficult pieces of the puzzle. I hope we can get those pieces in place before the strike deadline."
The group decided it would be best to meet next on Wednesday when a state-appointed mediator could be present.
Both sides met June 19 and 25 with school board president James Giel in attendance.
On July 2, Mr. Giel was joined by board members William Couts, James Fisher and Jeanne Petrovich.
After a brief exchange of proposals, according to the district's website, the union negotiators said they had no additional proposals and would not meet again without a mediator.
The holdup came, said Mrs. Ravas who was not present, when the district offered a counter proposal that only addressed one outstanding issue.
"In essence, they were asking us to negotiate against ourselves to meet their needs," Mrs. Ravas said. The SAEA team had been optimistic up to that point, Mrs. Ravas said.
"I think for the first couple of sessions we were making some headway but they have kind of slowed down for now." She added that her team also appreciates the presence of the additional board members.
"They're hearing what we have to say, not a paraphrased version," she said, noting that the most outstanding issue is working conditions. "They're ignoring those."
Mrs. Ravas said her team is looking forward to getting a contract resolved sooner rather than later, which were sentiments shared by Mr. Shipley.
"We're hoping to avoid a strike," he said. "The teachers have already come to the conclusion they're willing to do that and we're working to get things done before then."
If Sept. 3 comes around and the teachers do exercise their right to strike, Mr. Shipley said all Shaler Area residents will be advised through automated telephone calls, email blasts and letters.
The maximum length of a strike is set by state law. Shaler Area's class of 2014 commencement is set for June 13. Any strike time will be made up by taking away days set in the school calendar for teacher in-service and the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter breaks, Mr. Shipley said.
Rita Michel, freelance writer: email@example.com.