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Contract battle draws ire of some Shaler Area residents

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By Bethany Hofstetter
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Many Shaler Area residents are growing frustrated with the prolonged contract negotiations between the school district and teachers' union.

Last week an auditorium full of parents, teachers, students and community members asked for a resolution.

“I'm not here to advocate for anyone or any position,” said Dorothy Petrancosta, of Shaler. “I am here to advocate for a contract.”

Shaler Area teachers have been working under the conditions 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 deal.

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 hours notice, which Shaler Area teachers now can do at any time.

“That is in the back of our minds as a parent every day,” said April Kwiatkowski, president of the District Parent Council.

Kwiatkowski then asked both negotiations teams to compromise.

“Come to the table with one thing that you haven't considered before,” she said.

School board President James Giel said the district's negotiation team suggested negotiating in the same room instead of the current arrangement of keeping the two sides in different rooms with the mediator acting as the messenger.

“Last evening, we were refused,” Giel said. “Our side, as was reported to us today (Wednesday), asked to meet at the table.”

Giel's comments were met with cries from the teachers in the audience of “That's not true.”

However, Superintendent Wes Shipley confirmed that the mediator reported to the district negotiation team that the teachers' union wanted to maintain negotiations in separate rooms with the mediator.

When asked by a parent in the audience if there was any progress made at the negotiation meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, Giel said, “no.”

Many parents and community members in attendance at last week's regular voting meeting spoke in support of smaller class sizes, more teachers in the school and better compensation for teachers to attract the highest-quality educators.

“I fail to hear any speaker supporting the school board position,” said Andrew “Buzz” Barkovich of Shaler.

“If that's the case, since the school board is working for the public, for the taxpayer, listen to what the taxpayer is saying here. Do what your constituents are saying.”

However, some speakers asked the school board members to remember the taxpayers who are footing the bill.

“Is there a number the public can be made aware of to reach the teachers' demands?” Scott Harris of Shaler asked the school board.

When Giel said that by answering he would be crossing the line and negotiating in public, which is not permitted under the negotiations agreement, Harris asked if the teachers knew that number.

“Because I don't want my taxes to go up again,” he said.

“What we're hearing, what I'm hearing, is the classrooms (sizes) are getting large, but the teachers want more money, but as a business owner, I know sometimes the money isn't there.

“I'm trying to understand how we get the best out of everybody.”

Giel said that while he couldn't comment on the specific negotiation issues, wages, benefits, class size, work days and the work environment all are topics of the negotiations.

The next negotiation meeting is scheduled for today, Thursday, Jan. 24.

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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