Bethel Park School District teachers have worked more than 1,000 days without a contract.
That milestone, of sorts, occurred Tuesday and several reminders cropped up during the school board meeting that night.
Some teachers who live in the district spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting to express frustration at the inability to reach a new deal, focusing the blame on the school board and administration. Teachers remain employed under the terms of the contract that expired at the end of the 2009-10 school year.
In turn, board members and some Bethel Park residents rebuked the teachers for their remarks, especially ones that implied dissatisfaction with their jobs because of the impasse.
"Quite frankly, I was shocked to hear a few of the comments this evening," said Donna Cook, board president.
"We are doing our best," she told those in attendance. "I apologize to you that you think it is not good enough."
In response to a resident's suggestion to conduct negotiations in public, Mrs. Cook asked solicitor Michael Brungo if that would be possible.
Mr. Brungo, who said he has negotiated contracts in the public sector for 21 years, replied that he does "not recall a single instance" in which such a scenario occurred.
"I tend to think it would be counterproductive," said Mr. Brungo, whose firm, Maiello Brungo & Maiello of Churchill, has served as longtime legal counsel for the school district. He explained that issues tend to be "so complex, there would not be a valid understanding of what's going on in negotiations."
Teachers and their supporters frequently comment about the contract situation at school board meetings, but board members have been instructed by counsel not to address the topic publicly.
On Tuesday, board member Cynthia Buckley did mention the fiduciary responsibility the board has to the residents of Bethel Park.
"When there's only so much money available, what do you want us to do?" she asked.
The board and administration are in the process of trying to balance the district's 2013-14 budget, which is due for adoption in May, and are facing decisions about spending cuts.
Another board member, Jim Means, noted that although teachers have not received salary increases since their contract expired, the district has paid more each year toward their health care and pensions.
"To insinuate that they aren't being paid a fair salary is ridiculous," he said.
Bethel Park's school bus drivers also are working under the terms of an expired contract. The district has discussed the possibility of outsourcing transportation services.
Two other contracts, with the district's paraprofessionals and secretaries, expire at the end of this school year.
Harry Funk, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.