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Arbitrator sides with Keystone Oaks teachers union on bonuses

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 9:22 p.m.

The Keystone Oaks School District might have to pay its teachers thousands of dollars as a result of an arbitrator siding with the teachers union in a dispute over bonuses for large classes.

The ruling concerns payments that teachers receive when their classes exceed 23 students. The district paid elementary school teachers a $1,000 per semester bonus when their class exceeded the number. The bonus was the same no matter how many subjects teachers taught to the same group of students.

The Keystone Oaks Education Association said each subject should be counted as a separate class under a contract extension approved in 2011.

An arbitrator sided with the union in a ruling issued on Nov. 20.

“If you're a high school teacher and you go over the maximum number of students, you get a bonus per class period. But if you're an elementary school teacher, you can be teaching multiple subjects to the same group of students and only get that bonus once,” said John McCarthy, president of the Keystone Oaks Education Association.

The school board will have 90 days from the ruling to decide whether it will appeal.

The union filed a grievance in January to have elementary teachers treated the same as high school teachers, since they prepare lessons for multiple classes and grade the extra students' work in each subject, McCarthy said. About five teachers were affected at the time the grievance was filed.

The contract states that “an employee having more than one class in excess of the class size limits shall receive a commensurate number of bonuses.”

McCarthy said the language was designed to encourage the district to keep class sizes down.

“The problem is that we didn't define the word ‘class,' and the union successfully argued that it meant ‘subject,'” said school board member Dave Hommrich, who said he thinks the board should have made the language clearer before passing the contract extension. “In contracts, any words that govern the flow of money have to be very clear.”

Superintendent Dr. William Stropkaj said that because of the Thanksgiving break, staff were still analyzing how much the arbitration decision would cost.

“We have not had the chance to get together yet and crank out the numbers on the actual implications,” Stropkaj said.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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