East Allegheny teachers prepared to strike
East Allegheny School District teachers will go on strike if a new tentative contract is not agreed upon before the start of the 2014-15 school year.
East Allegheny Education Association president Cheryl Ihnat on Monday formally notified the district of the union's intent to strike, and informed the public of its plans at the evening's school board meeting.
Ihnat said the last official negotiation session took place on May 6, and there was no progress.
“After three hours of negotiations the (school) board broke off talks,” Ihnat said. “The association was surprised and disappointed. This is another example of how the school board has disrespectfully treated negotiations and our teachers for the past 681 days.”
The union voted to authorize the strike following the May 6 meeting, Ihnat said.
The district's 128 teachers have worked without a contract since the end of the 2011-12 school year.
Some of the teachers who attended the meeting wore white shirts with the message “No contract” on the front and “Still here for our kids” on the back in black lettering. Others brought signs stating “Contract Now” and “You can't put students first if you put teachers last.”
School director Frederick Miller responded to the union's notice via a prepared statement.
“The board will engage in discussions with the association over the summer to continue negotiations,” Miller said.
“We remain hopeful that we can reach a settlement that reflects a fair solution for our teachers, taxpayers and students. At this point, the district continues to operate with a structural deficit and state funding remains relatively flat. We have not yet received a proposal from the association that the district could afford. Thus far, the association's proposals would make the deficit larger and would require substantial tax increases.”
Students' first day of the next school year is scheduled for Sept. 2, and the last day of school is planned for June 11 with graduation on June 12.
Superintendent Roger D'Emidio said he is thankful the current school year will conclude as scheduled on June 6, and is preparing for any changes in the next school calendar.
“If I were a parent, I wouldn't make any plans on graduation for 2015,” D'Emidio said. “Because if they strike as they told me today, that's going to impact graduation, so that date's going to change.”
“The notice of the strike saddens me because the reason we're here is for the students,” board president Gerri McCullough said. “Our main focus is education for the students. Obviously, if the instructors are on strike that education is halted.”
The district is required to provide at least 180 days of instruction to its students.
Ihnat declined to comment on how long a strike could be, should an agreement not be reached in time.
“We want them to come to the table with a proposal that's fair,” Ihnat said. “It's (been) two and a half years. They keep telling us they're working in a deficit, but we haven't even moved (in wages) so we didn't create that.”
Another negotiation session has not been scheduled.
The district is seeking a three- to five-year contract with some wage freezes.
As of last month, the union wanted a five-year deal with a 16-step pay scale, which shows pay increases based on education and years of service instead of definitive percentages.
Ihnat said on Monday the union no longer will discuss proposed contract terms with the media.
District officials said the cost of the teachers' desired contract is $1.49 million in its final year, which equals approximately 3.16 mills.
The board approved a $32,683,382 proposed 2014-15 final budget on Monday with no tax increase. The millage is projected to remain at 27.54 mills. One mill generates approximately $471,000.
District officials highlighted some of East Allegheny's financial challenges at previous meetings.
The cost of cyber/charter schools, health care, pensions and other benefits are expected to increase by $500,000 for the 2014-15 school year.
According to district figures, the average starting salary for a teacher is roughly $45,000. There are 24 teachers making $52,200 to $59,900, six making more than $75,900, and 19 making more than $92,000.
District figures indicate a family health care plan costs the district $17,000 a year while each teacher pays $840 for the year.
There are approximately 1,800 students in the district under the guidance of seven administrators, including six principals, which is more pupils per administrator than the state average of 158 to one. Figures show approximately 14 students per teacher.
The district provides updates on contract notations on its website, www.eawildcats.net.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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