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Teacher strike threats remain in Western Pennsylvania |

Teacher strike threats remain in Western Pennsylvania

Bobby Kerlik
| Saturday, March 14, 2015 5:32 p.m

The threat of a teachers’ strike in Steel Valley is over, but several school districts in Western Pennsylvania do not have contracts in place.

Teachers in Sto-Rox, Derry Area, Belle Vernon, South Butler, California Area, Chartiers-Houston, Monessen, Beth-Center, Butler County Vo-Tech and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit are all working with expired contracts, but the most heated battle may be in East Allegheny.

Teachers there have been without a contract since June 2012 and went on strike for 16 days in September. Union officials left open the possibility of another strike before the end of the school year.

“We’re in the process of going through a nonbinding mandatory arbitration process. Either side could choose to accept or reject the decision, but both sides are hoping it will bring about a settlement,” said Cheryl Ihnat, a school counselor and president of the East Allegheny Education Association. “(A strike) is a possibility, but no one wants that to happen.”

The East Allegheny school board and union are at odds over raises. The district encompasses North Versailles, East McKeesport, Wilmerding and Wall.

“We are waiting while they have their discussions (with the arbitrator),” Superintendent Roger A. D’Emidio said. “We are hoping that an agreement will come out of this process.”

“I’m very hopeful that we reach an agreement from the meeting we had in January,” school board President Gerri McCullough said.

In Sto-Rox, union officials said negotiations have stalled because of a proposal to open a Propel charter school in the district. Sto-Rox would have to pay for any of its students who attend Propel.

“We think it’s in our best interest to wait until Propel charter school takes effect. In the past, we’ve had a hard time getting accurate financial data from the district,” said Bob Spehar, an English teacher and president of the Sto-Rox Education Association. “We know we’re not Fox Chapel or Mt. Lebanon, but a lot of people have been on a pay freeze for four or five years.”

The Sto-Rox school board president couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Steel Valley School District narrowly avoided a strike last week when a marathon weekend bargaining session produced an acceptable deal for both sides.

More negotiations are on the way in dozens of districts where teachers’ contracts expire this summer, including Pittsburgh Public Schools.

“We have met with the district several times, but we’re just scratching the surface. We’re compiling our proposals, and the district is compiling theirs,” said Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. “We hope it will stay based on what’s best for our schools, students and teachers.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane confirmed contract talks have started, but it’s early in the process.

“The process starts months before any time you have a contract coming up. Sometimes it’s short. Sometimes it’s long,” Lane said. “We’ll keep working on it.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or

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