Ellwood City Area School District avoids strike set for Tuesday
Ellwood City Area School District narrowly avoided a strike set for Tuesday thanks to a last-ditch negotiating session late Monday, but at least one Western Pennsylvania district with an expired contract is planning to strike, and more might follow as the state’s budget impasse continues, one union official said.
“There will be no strike. We have reached a tentative agreement. School as planned for tomorrow,” a post on the district’s Twitter said at about 9 p.m.
Superintendent Joseph Mancini and teachers union representatives couldn’t be reached for comment, but a statement on the district’s website signed by Mancini said the two sides will work on a ratification document that each side will be able to recommend for approval. The union represents about 130 teachers.
Meanwhile, Peters Township School District teachers could walk off the job Oct. 28 if they are unable to reach a contract agreement.
Strikes become more likely the longer the budget impasse lasts and school systems delay deals, said Matt Edgell, a regional coordinator with the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
“Every day that goes by without restored funding, without a budget, (it) becomes a more critical issue,” he said.
Along with Peters Township, teachers at about 10 other school districts or education organizations remain in negotiations, PSEA said. They include Duquesne, Wilkinsburg, Sto-Rox, Northgate, Baldwin-Whitehall, Highlands, South Allegheny, Brentwood and South Park school districts, along with the A.W. Beattie Career Center in McCandless.
“It definitely isn’t a good collective bargaining time” given the uncertainty over state funding, said Jay Hime, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials in Harrisburg, which represents business managers and other administrative officials in some districts.
“It makes getting to an agreement harder. So while there may have been ongoing negotiations, the process has become much more contentious because there’s so much more at stake now,” Hime said.
Peters Township teachers union officials and district representatives are scheduled to engage in talks Oct. 27, but teachers could strike the next day if there is no deal to replace a contract that expired in August.
Teachers are seeking a smaller increase in health insurance premiums than the tripling proposed by the district. Scheduling and teachers’ salaries remain in dispute, said Paul Homer, staff representative for the Peters Township Federation of Teachers, which negotiates on behalf of 285 teachers in the district.
Teachers’ salaries for the 2014-15 school year ranged from $45,900 for a first-year teacher to $102,683 for a teacher with a master’s degree, according to the federation.
Homer said Peters officials canceled three of the last five negotiations.
“We don’t believe they’re listening to us, and they seem to be nonchalant with respect to getting a deal,” Homer said.
Peters Superintendent Jeannine French confirmed that the district canceled three meetings but said they were not related to the talks. The district is willing to meet at any time, she said.
Increasing health care costs and pension payments continue to be long-term budget burdens for the district, French said, but the state budget impasse isn’t a factor. She denied the district is trying to triple teachers’ health care costs but said legal issues did not allow her to discuss details of the contract.
“What we’re asking for is for our teachers to partner with us and solve these financial constraints so that as a district we have long-term sustainability,” she said.
The district and teachers have been negotiating regularly since March, French said.
Teachers in the Brentwood Borough School District dressed in black to an in-service day Monday to show unity.
The 96 members of the Brentwood Education Association have been working under an expired contract since their five-year pact with the district ended June 30. Their last negotiation session was Aug. 3. Talks are to resume Friday.
“Quite honestly, we’re not in a good place. We’re not happy that we’re here in October working without a contract,” said Amy Kiryk, a Brentwood High School Spanish teacher.