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East Allegheny teachers respond in contract dispute

| Thursday, July 31, 2014, 3:51 a.m.

A long-running contract dispute continues between East Allegheny School District and its 128 teachers.

The president of the East Allegheny Education Association said her members still seek a contract within recommendations state fact-finder Robert Gifford made and the district rejected two years ago.

“We have offered other concessions which were rejected as well,” Cheryl Ihnat said on Wednesday. Her union has worked under a contract that expired on June 30, 2012.

She declined to detail those concessions, reiterating that “we are not going to negotiate the contract in the media.”

Ihnat said the district is unfair with proposals that would extend the existing 16-step salary scale and strip 62 items out of previous contracts.

Ihnat said she expected the district would send out the letter parents received last week and others can see on the www.eawildcats.net website.

It advised parents to prepare for delays because the education association called for a strike if a contract is not reached by the scheduled start of classes on Sept. 2.

“We notified the district back in May so parents would have plenty of time to make preparations,” Ihnat said.

The school board page on the district website includes the letter and a May “negotiation update” that claimed the teachers' proposal would cost the district $1.49 million by the third year and require a 3.16-mill tax increase.

Ihnat disputed that, as well as reports the teachers wanted to see tax increases within the Act 1 index set by state officials as allowable because of inflation.

“Millage rates for property taxes have not been rising at the Act 1 index, meaning that East Allegheny has been forgoing some of the revenue it needs to cover the expenditures,” according to a summary of the association's stance in Gifford's June 1, 2012, report.

“It wasn't stating that they should raise it,” Ihnat said. “It was stating that they had not raised it.”

The association did not like some of Gifford's recommendations but accepted them, as former president Lou Gerbi said, “to do our part in maintaining programs for our students and helping the district get its finances under control.”

The school board requested the fact-finder but rejected the recommendations, saying they “do not go far enough to help the district meet (its) grave financial challenges.”

Last month the board passed a $31.8 million district budget for 2014-15 with no change in the 27.54-mill tax rate. It continues a structural deficit that has existed since 2006-07.

“It's greater than $1 million,” school director Dr. Frederick Miller said.

“They need to look at how they are managing their spending,” Ihnat said. “They had voted to spend $2.75 million on lighting increases.”

That referred to a 2013 contract with Constellation New Energy to overhaul electrical systems in district schools.

The idea was to take advantage of a state law that allows the district to cover the cost with energy savings.

The teachers are focused as well on the Act 93 contract covering district administrators.

“They did accept a one-year freeze and then a $2,500-a-year increase over the life of the contract,” Ihnat said, “as well as a 75 percent tuition reimbursement.”

The administrators get that reimbursement for required continuing education. Ihnat said teachers do not get such reimbursement, even though by state law they have to attain 24 credits on top of their bachelor's degrees within six years for permanent certification.

The two sides have tried a variety of ways to resolve the dispute, from fact-finding to one-on-one negotiations involving Miller and Gerbi. Talks now involve teams of negotiators from each side overseen by a state mediator.

Ihnat said the association asked the district for additional dates that could be considered for bargaining sessions and “a realistic proposal.”

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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