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Ringgold teachers OK four-year deal

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Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 12:31 a.m.
 

Ringgold School District teachers are back in the classroom for the start of the new school year, a four-year contract in hand.

But a six-vote swing was the difference between resolution of an 18-month contract impasse and the likelihood of a strike.

“This meeting was very telling tonight,” Ringgold Education Association President Diana Kristobek said shortly after the membership narrowly approved the contract.

“If it was rejected, we would have had to revisit the whole situation, and a strike was a possibility.

“A lot of members felt either pass it or strike.”

Kristobek would say only that “the vote was close, but it passed.”

Bill Stein, school board vice president and chief negotiator, said the vote was 102-90 for passage.

The teachers authorized a strike Feb. 10, but never walked off the job.

The teachers worked though the 2013-14 school year without a contract. The old pact expired Aug. 31, 2013.

The union represents 215 teachers.

Stein called strike talk “speculation.”

“It was passed, and we're looking to move forward,” Stein said. “It's silly to speculate about what would have happened. I'm grateful to all teachers who ratified this.”

The contract includes a wage freeze for the 2013-14 school year. The teachers will receive hikes, on average, of 2.8 percent for 2014-15, 2.5 percent for 2015-16 and 3.3 percent for 2016-17.

Under the deal, teachers will have the option of staying with their current health care plan – with higher monthly contributions – or accepting a preferred provider organization plan.

The latter carries a $200 deductible rate for individuals and a $400 deductible rate for couples and families.

The most unpopular portion of the contract was a spousal exclusion. Spouses who work for the state, federal government or another school district are excluded from Ringgold health care coverage.

Kristobek said union leadership was not pleased with the spousal exclusion, adding it was a part of the give-and-take involved in the pact.

She called the contract “bittersweet.”

“We negotiated for 18 months and it was difficult,” Kristobek said.

Stein said the board will likely meet in special session Tuesday to ratify the contract.

“It's been a big issue for us and certainly it's been a big issue for the teachers,” Stein said.

“We're excited that it has been ratified and we can move forward.”

Stein said contract talks were “conducted in good atmosphere, even though they took longer than we had hoped for.”

“It was a difficult contract,” Stein said. “We're comfortable this helps the district move forward.

“We have a really good group of teachers and they work hard. And they want to make this district a success.”

“It was a long and difficult process,” said Alisa M. Compeau, Pennsylvania State Education Association UniServ representative.

“But negotiations are about compromise, and at the end of the day we have a contract.”

Moving on

Stein acknowledged that “Ringgold has a lot on its plate.”

At the meeting in which the contract is expected to be approved, the board will discuss plans to renovate Ringgold Elementary School North and approve a request for state funding for a new middle school under the state's PlanCON system.

PlanCon, short for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for state reimbursement.

The PlanCon forms are designed to document a local school district's planning process, provide justification for a project to the public, ascertain compliance with state laws and regulations and establish the level of state participation in the cost of the project.

The board last month authorized architect HHSDR to submit documents applying for funding under PlanCON.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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