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East Allegheny teachers pack meeting in display of solidarity

| Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 2:31 a.m.

East Allegheny School District teachers packed the board meeting on Monday evening in a sign of solidarity.

About 50 teachers attended the session wearing blue shirts with yellow lettering with the message, “Standing up for the teachers means standing up for our kids.”

None of them spoke during the meeting.

“We're here to show that we're still working,” said East Allegheny Education Association president Cheryl Ihnat after the meeting. “We're currently in our second year of working without a contract, and we want to make our presence continually known ... Our group is united. We are strong. We are still working for our kids, and we're doing our best to keep doing that. Our community needs to know we're working without a contract.”

The district's 128 teachers have worked without a contract since the end of the 2011-12 school year.

Contract negotiations between the district and East Allegheny Education Association officials remain at an impasse. The last official negotiation session took place on Dec. 11, when school directors agreed to step away from the talks and allow legal counsel Michael Palombo to represent the district.

“I guess they were just here to show their solidarity,” school board president Gerri McCullough said after Monday's meeting. “The board members are no longer negotiating. We've turned it over to labor counsel, so they really wouldn't have had much to say to us ... Our negotiation team will be meeting with (legal) counsel continuously.”

McCullough said board members decided to remove themselves from the negotiations because “we were just at a standstill.”

The board president said the only progress made involves language for teacher evaluations, which is mandated by the state Department of Education.

“Everything else is money, and that's where the disagreement is, money,” school director Frederick Miller said.

He said the district is faced with increasing pension, health care and cyber/charter school costs, but declined to release specific figures.

“These escalating costs are continuing to strain the budget, and we don't want to raise taxes because we're already very high,” Miller said. “It's like, ‘What do we do?' The teachers want more money, so how do we balance all that? It's a tough balancing act, and it makes negotiations difficult. I understand where the teachers are coming from ... Just because we didn't come to a negotiation contract doesn't mean they don't do a good job. We believe they do a very good job. We just have difficulty funding what they desire.”

“(Teachers) are deserving, but our taxpayers are also deserving of relief,” said treasurer and school director Roxanne Sakoian Eichler.

Ihnat declined to discuss possible terms or contract proposals.

“We've had ongoing negotiations for the past year and a half,” Ihnat said. “I can't go into details.”

She did say Pennsylvania State Education Association UniServ representative Robert Myers is involved in contract talks.

School directors unanimously adopted a resolution that indicates the board will not raise taxes for the 2014-15 fiscal year by more than its Act 1 index of .8547 mills. The current millage rate is 27.54.

“We have no intention of raising taxes whatsoever,” McCullough said.

Superintendent Roger D'Emidio recognized school directors Frank Pearsol and Eichler. He presented plaques from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association to Pearsol for eight consecutive years of service, and to Eichler for 24 consecutive years of service.

D'Emidio said Pearsol served 20 years on the board, but not consecutively.

The superintendent praised all school directors, as January is School Board Recognition Month.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or