Deer Lakes teachers accept fact-finder’s report, fault school board for inaction |
Valley News Dispatch

Deer Lakes teachers accept fact-finder’s report, fault school board for inaction

Brian C. Rittmeyer
Deer Lakes High School.
Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Deer Lakes School District teachers fill the library at the district's high school for a school board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017. Teachers union President Kevin Cochran (left) said it was a show of solidarity after their contract expired at the end of June.

The Deer Lakes School District announced Friday it has rejected the terms of a fact-finder’s report on teacher contract negotiations.

The district released a statement hours after the teachers’ union announced its members had accepted the report.

The last contract between the Deer Lakes Education Association and the school district expired at the end of June.

The union said its 139 members — which include librarians, guidance counselors and school nurses — accepted fact-finder Michelle Miller-Kotula’s recommendations for a new five-year contract at a membership meeting Wednesday.

The union noted the school board did not vote on the report or schedule a public meeting to vote on the report ahead of a final deadline Sunday.

However, district spokesman Jim Cromie said the board was not required to reject the report publicly. He acknowledged that the board did not vote on the issue.

“The board had private discussions,” he said. “They rejected it really pretty much right away.”

He said the members of the negotiating committee talked about it and quickly rejected it. Three of the nine board members are on the negotiating committee.

The full school board did not make the decision to reject it, he said.

School board President Clara Salvi and Superintendent Janell Logue-Belden did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Matt Edgell, a regional advocacy coordinator with the Pennsylvania State Education Association acknowledged that the district can reject the report simply by taking no action on it.

In its statement, the district said the school board had “carefully considered” the report before “respectfully rejecting” it.

“For the past several months, Deer Lakes has faithfully participated in these important discussions and has made several concessions as a result of those talks in an effort to demonstrate to its teachers how much the district respects and values the work they do with Deer Lakes’ students,” the district’s news release said. “However, the school district ultimately rejected the fact-finder’s report because it feels very strongly that many of the recommendations included therein did not adequately address the needs of all of the school district’s key stakeholder groups.”

The union initially rejected the report Oct. 4 during the first 10-day period for the two sides to vote on it, Edgell said.

Under state law, there was a second 10-day period for both sides to vote. Edgell said the union reconsidered.

Union spokesman Steve Kubicko, a middle school social studies teacher, said the union felt the need to accept the determination “to keep labor peace and continue to concentrate on our students.”

“We have done our part and accepted concessions,” Kubicko said in a statement. “We took our responsibilities seriously.”

Among the fact-finder’s recommendations:

• Salaries: An average 4.06 percent salary increase over five years. The district’s proposal averaged 4 percent, while the union had sought 4.96 percent.

• Health insurance: Contributions increasing from 8 percent of premium, capped at $125 per month, in the first year, to 10 percent of premium, capped at $145 per month, in the fifth year.

• Length of day: The fact-finder recognized the district’s need to extend the work day for teachers. She recommended lengthening the work day by 20 minutes per day in the second year of the contract, and reducing the workdays from 192 to 188, also in the second year. The days removed from the work year are in-service days.

• Extended sick leave: Teachers can choose to donate sick days to a “sick leave bank.” Teachers who run out of their own sick leave due to a serious illness can receive days from the bank to extend their sick leave. The fact-finder recommended reducing the district’s contribution to a sick leave bank from 45 days in the contract’s first year to 30 days in the fifth year.

Edgell said the school board appears “disinterested” in the report.

“The mere act of not voting is kind of unsavory,” he said. “It’s kind of a slap in the face.”

Edgell said the union has not voted to authorize a strike, but a work stoppage is “always a possibility.”

“There are things to do between now and then,” he said. “We’re going to continue to act in good faith and continue to work toward a contract for now.”

No bargaining sessions are scheduled.

The last contract between the union and Deer Lakes took more than a year and the threat of a strike to reach.

It was approved in November 2014, following the expiration of the prior agreement in June 2013.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.

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