Bethel Park school district, union make 'progress' in contract talks
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The Bethel Park school district and its teachers union have added two more dates to contract talks before students head back to the classroom on Sept. 4.
The two parties will meet Friday and Tuesday to discuss a collective bargaining agreement for the coming school year after previous meetings, including July 25 and August 6.
"We're making baby steps toward progress," Superintendent Nancy Aloi Rose said after a school board meeting Tuesday.
The two parties resumed talks this summer in these meetings, the first since March, said Diann Smith, president of the Bethel Park Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers. (District spokeswoman Vicki Flotta noted they also met June 22.) On Monday, the full-day session lasted into the evening, said Ms. Aloi Rose, who described the meetings as collaborative.
Calls to Ms. Smith were not returned in time for this article.
The teachers' contract expired in June 2010 and a six-week strike followed that fall. In May, both the district and teachers rejected an report from an independent fact-finder, who heard unresolved issues from both parties and offered her recommendations.
The union rejected the fact-finder's report because it included a one-year wage freeze, which Ms. Smith then said basically eliminates a step in the contract.
The school board rejected the pact "because we can't afford it," said school board President Donna Cook.
Ms. Cook said planning these meetings can be challenging because they have to accommodate three schedules.
"It's our team, the union team and the state mediator," she said.
Leading the district team is solicitor Alfred Maiello, with other administrators at the table for discussions.
Teachers in Bethel Park have gone on strike six times in the past 30 years. After the six-week strike in 2010, teachers resumed work under the terms of the previous contract and the two sides participated in nonbinding arbitration. Both parties rejected that arbitrator's report.
Ms. Smith has said the major issues discussed with the fact-finder are the same time around: benefits, salaries, class size and scheduling of teachers.
The tone seems optimistic, at least for the school district.
"We're trying to stay positive and focused," Ms. Aloi Rose said.
First Published August 9, 2012 5:52 am