Large crowd attends Shaler Area meeting as contract talks heat up
An unusually large crowd of parents, teachers, students and community members filled the middle school auditorium at last week's Shaler Area School Board of Directors' reorganization and regular voting meeting to ask for an end to the ongoing contract negotiations.
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.
The two sides last met Dec. 6.
“I encourage all of you to work toward a settlement with the teachers' union and quickly,” said Lynn Harris, the mother of a Shaler Area graduate and a current junior in high school, during the Dec. 5 meeting. “I realize the financial times are tough, but the compromise should not be at the expense of the students.”
On Nov. 19, the Shaler Area Education Association voted to authorize the union leadership to call a strike. Under the collective bargaining legislation, teachers are required to give 48-hour notice, which Shaler Area teachers now can do at any time.
Many parents and community members who spoke to the school board requested the school board members also sit in on the negotiations sessions with the district negotiations team as an act of good faith and with the hopes that it moves negotiations forward.
“I respect the board as elected officials; I respect the union's right to negotiate and a fair settlement,” said April Kwiatkowski, a mother of students in the district and president of the District Parent Council, who specifically asked her region representatives to attend negotiations. “I'm not taking sides, but 500 days (without a new contract) is a little much.”
While many parents and community members spoke in favor of the teachers, other community members also asked the school board to be mindful of the contract's effect on the community.
“As a business owner and taxpayer, I am confident I won't have to pay more taxes,” said Scott Harris, who also has students in the district. “It's an education system and a business. I don't want to see the teachers shorted or the businesses and taxpayers shorted. We have to work within a budget.”
As per the agreement between district officials and the teachers union, negotiations are not discussed in public. However, in response to requests from parents for transparency, Jim Giel, school board president, said the district would bring up the issue with the union at the Dec. 6 meeting. In order for negotiations to be public, both sides would need to agree.
Giel said the district officials and school board members respect everything the teachers do for the students and the community and are working toward a financially responsible and fiscally prudent settlement that is fair to the teachers, students and taxpayers.
“We have to look at what the entire community can afford,” said Giel. “We're trying to balance what the teachers need with what the community can afford and how do you address the people (in the community) who have not had a salary increased for years?”
Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.