East Allegheny teachers to strike Tuesday

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Teachers in the East Allegheny School District plan to take to the picket line Tuesday on what was scheduled to be the first day of school for students.

The latest negotiations between the teachers union and the school board have ended in a stalemate, with both sides still at odds over issues including teacher salaries. East Allegheny’s 128 teachers have worked without a contract since June 30, 2012.

Cheryl Ihnat, East Allegheny Education Association president, said her negotiations team and that of the district met Friday evening but did not reach agreement.

“We’ve given them a very comprehensive package that they rejected Thursday,” she said.

The district sent a letter to parents Friday saying the district has worked “tirelessly” but has been unable “to agree on a contract that the school district can afford at this time.”

Michael Palombo, an attorney representing the district, and Fred Miller, a school director who was negotiating contract terms for the district earlier this year, could not be reached for comment.

At a school board meeting in May, Mr. Miller said the cumulative cost of the teachers’ desired salary increases, plus pension and health care costs, would require an increase of 3.16 mills in real estate taxes for the third year of the contract.

That equates to a tax increase that would require a voter referendum because the state tax index prohibits the district from raising real estate taxes by more than 0.85374 mills per year, Mr. Miller has said.

School directors have said they will not raise taxes again in the district to fund teachers pay increases.

Ms. Ihnat said the school board should have been prepared for the salary increases, which are part of an existing 16-step pay scale.

“What we’re requesting, what we’ve been asking for, is something they should have been planning for,” she said.

The union offer that the school board rejected this week included teachers pay freezes for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.

While shopping Friday at the North Versailles Wal-Mart, Elizabeth Turley, 47, a township resident, called the plan to strike “ridiculous” in a school district where many people are struggling financially.

“I hope that they’re not going to get the increase they’re looking for,” she said of the teachers union.

If the strike occurs, Ms. Turley said her husband, who is unemployed, will be able to stay home with their son, Collin, but her fifth-grader, too, is upset about the impasse, because he wants to see his friends Tuesday at school.

A 33-year-old mother from North Versailles, who declined to give her name, said she plans to go to work as usual Tuesday.

Her son, a rising freshman, is old enough to stay home with her fourth-grade daughter.

“Being that I went to school to be a teacher, I can see both sides of the argument,” the woman said.

Tamika Marshall, 37, of Wilmerding said she’s not worried about her five children, ranging from fourth to 10th grade, falling behind during the strike.

Though the strike “kind of messes up things, I take it they’re doing it for a reason,” she said.

“At the end of the day, I’m not mad,” she said.

The district’s letter to parents also said graduation, scheduled for June 12, will be adjusted for any makeup days the strikes necessitates.

Ms. Ihnat said teachers in the 1,700-student district serving East McKeesport, North Versailles, Wilmerding and Wall, last went on strike in 1984.

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944.

First Published August 29, 2014 10:27 AM

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