East Allegheny School District teachers, board remain at odds over contract negotiations
East Allegheny School District and its teachers union are crossing swords again over their long-unresolved contract dispute.
Each side had statements to hand out at the board meeting on Monday, held in the high school auditorium to accommodate a crowd of nearly 100, including teachers and supporters.
The meeting comes three weeks before a scheduled Sept. 2 start of classes, when the East Allegheny Education Association is promising a strike if no contract is reached.
The 128 education association members have worked without a contract since June 30, 2012.
“I am asking that, unlike other sessions, the board comes to the negotiations table this Thursday with a willingness to bargain and not to continue their regressive proposals,” education association president Cheryl Ihnat told the board.
Thursday's scheduled session comes after one on July 8, when the board said the teachers walked out, and another last week.
“There was some confusion that we wanted to clarify multiple times but they didn't accept our explanation,” school director Dr. Frederick Miller said. He declined to explain what was being clarified.
“I am cautiously optimistic going in,” Ihnat said after the meeting. “I always am.”
However, she said her union has been consistent about what it seeks and the district has been moving backward.
“Negotiations require both sides to move,” Miller said. “They haven't moved from their proposals of 2½ years ago. Are we supposed to move until we agree with them?”
Miller referred to the 2012 recommendations of a state fact-finder that were accepted by the teachers but rejected by the board.
“The district rejected it because it could not afford the associated costs,” the district stated in its handout, which was posted on the school board page of the district's eawildcats.net site.
“We currently have 17 teachers each earning $92,468.49,” the district said on its website. “An average teacher salary (is) $64,045.30.”
In their handout the education association pointed out that the board requested the fact-finding.
The teachers insisted the district “attempted to strip or change 62 items in the contract.”
The teachers have gone online as well to make their case to residents of the district encompassing East McKeesport, North Versailles Township, Wall and Wilmerding.
“Please know that the decision was not an easy one to make, and one we hoped would not be necessary,” the union said of its decision to strike at sites.google.com/site/eaea4students/home, where the 2012 fact-finding report was posted.
“Due in large part to the rise in pension and health care costs, stagnant state funding, and exorbitant charter school costs, the district has experienced a budget deficit that exceeds $1 million and this contributes to the difficulty in resolving the contract impasse,” the district said.
East Allegheny is operating with a $31 million 2014-15 budget that set taxes at 27.54 mills but has a structural deficit of more than $1 million that has existed since 2006-07.
“The (district) website accurately states both sides' positions,” said board member Roxanne Sakoian Eichler, one of the district negotiators.
“They have said and gotten out to the public that we want totally free health care,” Ihnat said. “We have agreed that we need to pay more, but they need to come to the table with a realistic proposal.”
Miller and Eichler said the district's proposal would raise taxes by 0.74 mills, while the teachers' proposal would mean at least a 4-mill hike.
After adjournment the board ran a gauntlet of teachers and supporters, with approximately 50 of them in T-shirts that read, “Standing up for teachers means standing up for our kids.”
One parent estimated that a third of those in the auditorium were parents and others supporting the education association members.
“Give our kids a future,” yelled one man who declined to be identified as board members left the high school.
“Our financial issues have made it difficult to support all of the programs vital to a successful school district,” the district said on its website. “However, we continue to work towards a solution that the district can afford.”
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.