Letter to the editor/East
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Lou Gerbi, president of the East Allegheny Education Association, who represents teachers in the East Allegheny School District, was recently quoted in the newspapers about bargaining and fact-finding with the East Allegheny School District. Mr. Gerbi accused the school board of "playing games."
The district has met many times during the last six months in bargaining with the teachers' association without the teachers once accepting that the district and its taxpayers are making a great effort to provide education for the district's youth and to reach a settlement with the education association. Mr. Gerbi says that the district should raise taxes. In fact, the board has to admit that East Allegheny unfortunately has the fourth highest tax burden in the state among all of the state's school districts. (Wilkinsburg is first.)
By comparison, the teachers in the district have one of the best wage and benefit programs in Allegheny County. The teacher starting rates and top rates also are among the county's highest.
Mr. Gerbi said teachers did not like the recommendation that they increase their health insurance contributions. The increase would be from $60 to $100 a month over three years. This is not nearly enough. This would increase the teachers' contribution to about 5 percent of the premium for the best health insurance with low co-pays and deductibles.
The school district is one of the most financially challenged in the state. When the district bargained and settled with the teachers' association three years ago, it did not account for the dramatic reductions in state and federal subsidies that would take place over the last two school years. In fact, most Pennsylvania school districts did not.
Because of the challenges that resulted, the district hired a consultant in 2010 to recommend ways to meet the challenges and implemented all of the recommendations.
It was not enough.
Wages and benefits for teachers in the district make up the biggest part of the budget. The entire support staff has agreed in bargaining to a reasonable accommodation of the financial challenges of the district.
The association and the teachers it represents also need to give the district greater management flexibility, pay a fair share for health insurance, like other district employees and taxpayers, and agree on salary schedules that the district can afford over the next few years.
The board believes that the education of the district's youth is not a game, but a very serious and challenging matter. It has become very difficult to fund since the start of the Great Recession, the cuts in education funding by the state and federal government over the last two years, and the 5-percent-a-year increase in the costs of the teachers' very generous pensions -- a cost that will continue to escalate at 5 percent a year for a number of years into the future.
It is not serious to suggest that higher taxes are the answer. High taxes have not helped Wilkinsburg and did not help Duquesne.
We hope that the association will come to accept the reality of the district's financial challenges and bargain in good faith to cooperatively address these challenges.
EAST ALLEGHENY BOARD OF SCHOOL
Gerri McCullough, president
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First Published June 21, 2012 4:50 am