New Kensington-Arnold teachers show up en masse to remind board that contract isn’t done
With at least 70 teachers watching Thursday, the New Kensington-Arnold School Board approved a 2019-2020 preliminary budget with the same teachers’ payroll number as this school year.
Whether that number increases when the final budget is approved in June remains to be seen as negotiations between the district and the 157-member New Kensington- Arnold Education Association continue.
The teachers have been working without a new contract and a pay raise since Aug. 31, 2017, when the previous contract expired. They have continued working under an extension of that contract while a new one is being negotiated.
Connie Bowser, president of the teachers’ union, said the turnout of teachers was meant as a show of solidarity to the school board and also to send a message that the members are watching what the board does.
“They are interested, they are not disinterested in the process,” Vita said.
Although Vita would not discuss details of the negotiations, she was the main issues are salary and benefits, but also contract language items are a concern.
She said the contract negotiations began in earnest in October and have been productive.
“I don’t think we’re unreasonable,” she said. “Teachers are not unreasonable people in general. We don’t normally have contentious negotiations.”
Vita was the only teacher to address the board, telling the school directors, “We want a fair contract, and we want to work with the district to achieve that.”
School board president Bob Pallone expressed similar views also without disclosing any negotiation details.
He described the negotiations as “a real good, amiable, positive environment to work in.”
“We’re making progress, we’re moving in the right direction,” Pallone said.
For the time being, the budget line items for regular and special education salaries for the elementary and secondary levels remain at about $10.3 million.
Under the last contract, the teachers received average salary increases of about 1 percent per year under a three-year contract. That brought the teachers salary range to about $45,400 to $75,700 by the time the contract ended in 2017.
Finding the money to fund a major pay increase in a new contract is the dilemma facing the school board.
Much remains in flux between now and the budget’s final approval. The district waits to see what it will receive in the way of a basic education subsidy from the state and administrators look at areas where the proposed $38.1 million in budget expenditures can be pared.
As it stands, the preliminary budget shows a deficit of $1.45 million between those expenditures and the $36.7 million in anticipated revenues.
A tax increase is a possibility. However, the state index limits the district to as much as a 3.4 percent (2.9 mills) in a tax increase.
But the district also is eligible for exceptions under Act 1 that could allow the board to raise it as high as 6.2 mills. That would bring in additional revenue of just under $700,000.
Given the fact that until taxes were increased two mills last year to 85.7 mills, and the board did not raise taxes in the four previous years, the likelihood of a major increase seems doubtful.
Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.