Pennsylvania teachers don't want to strike, despite expired contracts

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School started in the region this fall without the threat of teachers strikes, despite the fact that contracts have expired in a number of districts.

That reflects the situation statewide as well, and some experts think the economy may be a factor.

"The unions have recognized that the public is financially in a difficult position and now is not necessarily a good time to go on strike and look for sympathy from the voter/taxpayer. The economy is bad. It's tough everywhere right now," said David Davare, director of research for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Mr. Davare said this is the second year that school opened across the state without talk of teacher walkouts.

Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, said no union "has given any indication that a strike is likely."

Several local districts have settled contracts over the summer, including Allegheny Valley, McKeesport Area, Woodland Hills and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

A settlement also has been reached in the Steel Valley School District, where both sides agreed to a fact-finder's recommendations and the board is set to approve a new contract Sept. 25. Fact-finding helped to resolve the Woodland Hills contract as well.

In other districts in Allegheny County, teachers are working under the terms of expired contracts while negotiations continue. They include Cornell, East Allegheny, South Allegheny, Shaler Area, Pine-Richland, Hampton and Wilkinsburg. Teachers in the Duquesne City School District also are working with an expired contract, but no negotiations have been set there, said PSEA representative Butch Santicola.

In addition, about a dozen other districts in neighboring counties have teachers who are on the job despite expired contracts while negotiations continue. In Butler County, the Mars Area school board heard from teachers and residents at last week's board meeting, urging the board to settle contracts with the district's teachers and support staffs.

The longest-standing teacher contract dispute in the state is in the Neshaminy School District in Bucks County, where teachers have been without a contract since 2008. Neshaminy teachers staged two strikes last year, in January and in June.

Locally, the district that has been without a contract the longest is Bethel Park, where the previous contract expired in June 2010. Bethel Park teachers walked off the job in November 2010, holding a six-week strike. Since then, both the school board and union have rejected reports from an arbitrator and a fact-finder.

The Bethel Park Federation of Teachers announced Aug. 29 that it would continue to work under the terms of an earlier collective bargaining agreement as talks with the district continue. School started Sept. 4.

In Duquesne, talks with teachers appear to be on hold until the state board of control overseeing the district decides whether it should accept the preliminary designation of being in "financial recovery" -- a designation state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis made last month.

The state board of control has until Sept. 26 to decide whether it will accept the designation or request a hearing on the matter. If no hearing is requested, the designation becomes final, and Mr. Tomalis will appoint a financial recovery officer, who has the authority to change and negotiate labor contracts.

In the four districts where contracts were settled recently, all include either first-time or increased teacher contributions to health care premiums and two include one-year wage freezes.

In Woodland Hills, teachers will pay toward health care for the first time, contributing 6 percent, or up to $75 per month. The new four-year contract is retroactive to August 2011. Teachers accepted a wage freeze for the first year and raises of about 2 percent in the second and third years and of about 1.5 percent in the fourth year, acting superintendent Alan Johnson said.

Teacher salaries in the current year are $37,500 for a teacher at step one with a bachelor's degree and $92,000 for teachers with a master's degree at the top step. By the end of the contract, those salaries will increase to $37,750 and $93,500, respectively. The average teacher salary this year is $54,500.

Allegheny Valley teachers also accepted a wage freeze for the first year of the new contract, which runs from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2017. In the four remaining years of the contract, raises are less than 1 percent.

The annual starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree is $36,125 and increases to $39,084 by the end of the contract. The top scale salary for a teacher with a master's degree is $86,675 the first year and increases to $89,874 in the last year. The average salary this year is $61,761.

Health insurance contributions will increase in the second year of the contract from 3 to 4 percent and then 1 percent additional in each year of the contract.

McKeesport Area teachers will contribute to health care for the first time in their new three-year contract, with monthly contributions of $30 the first year, $40 the second year and $45 the third year, business manager David Seropian said.

The contract, approved at the Aug. 15 board meeting, runs through Aug. 30, 2015, and calls for raises of 1.84 percent this year, followed by 2.25 percent and 2.11 percent in following years.

The starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree is $40,000 and will increase to $41,778 by the end of the contract. The top scale salary with a master's degree is $87,103 this year and will increase to $87,803 by 2014-15. The average salary this year is $55,547.

The 360 members of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit Education Association, who are mainly special education professionals, will see their health care contributions increase from 3.5 percent of the premium in the first year of the contract, which is retroactive to 2011-12, to 7.25 percent by the third year. The average teacher salary this year is $62,292. The contract included raises of $1,500 the first year, $1,300 this year and $1,375 next year. By the end of the contract, teachers at the top of the pay scale with a master's degree will be paid $96,425.

education - region

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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