Students raise contract concerns in Shaler, ask board for help
Shaler Area students say now they can only wait for word of a resolution to the current contract negotiations between the school district and the teachers union after a student presentation to the school board last week.
More than 50 students and parents attended the Oct. 10 school board meeting to express their concerns that contract negotiations are starting to affect them because some teachers are declining to chaperone dances, staff extracurricular activities or write letters of recommendation reportedly because it is outside of their contractual obligations.
“Most importantly, I think the students did a great job of representing ourselves,” said senior Collin Ziegler, one of the students who spoke to the board on behalf of the student body. “We showed we care and are aware of what is going on, even if we don't know the details. We should be the first concern, and we feel like we're not.”
Shaler Area teachers have been working under the terms of an expired contract since Aug. 15, 2011. The Shaler Area Education Association, the collective bargaining unit, and district officials have been meeting since January 2011 to negotiate a new contract, with the most recent meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 16, with a mediator.
Both groups rejected a fact-finder's report at the end of 2011 and meet about once per month.
Melissa Ravas, president of the Shaler Area Education Association, which represents 380 teachers, said the teachers are dedicated to fulfilling their commitments to finish out the current activity season, but many are not making the commitment to sponsor future events or programs outside of a new contract.
“At this time, I think people are unwilling to pick up additional responsibilities and commits,” Ravas said.
“It's not that we've issued a directive to people to tell them what they have to do; people are making choices, and the sentiment is that people aren't interested in being taken for granted.”
School board president Jim Giel said the school board received a packet with letters from teachers detailing extra activities and duties they do outside of their contracts that many no longer continue.
“We know you're stuck,” Giel told the students in attendance at the school board meeting, “and anything we can do as a board, we will help you.”
Most recently, the district struggled to find chaperones for the homecoming dance last weekend because of a lack of teacher volunteers, however, parents and school board members with the appropriate clearances stepped up to chaperone the dance on Oct. 13. Giel said they will do the same thing for prom if needed.
Giel said the school board plans to discuss the possibility of paying the fees for parents to obtain clearances to volunteer. And April Kwiatkowski, president of the District Parent Council, said the organization and parent faculty groups are working to establish an “arsenal of volunteers” or list of parents who are willing to volunteer and have the necessary clearances.
Ravas said union members only wish the school district officials would have the same urgency to settling the contract negotiations as they do for finding volunteers to help with students' activities.
“The kids are why we do this job; we do this because the kids are important to us,” she said. “We'd like to see the board make the same commitment to the kids by making a commitment to the teachers.”
Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.