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For Shaler Area students, summer likely to be longer

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Daveen Rae Kurutz and Bethany Hofstetter
Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 8:48 p.m.
 

Students in the Shaler Area School District likely will not return to class on Tuesday if teachers and administrators do not reach a new contract agreement.

The Shaler Area Education Association and district negotiators met with a state-appointed mediator for the 34th time on Wednesday. They have been unable to find common ground on issues ranging from salaries to workload.

Union officials notified district officials of their intent to strike in June. District officials declined comment until Friday, and union officials did not respond to requests for comment.

While the Pennsylvania Department of Education determines the official end-of-strike date, district officials estimate a first strike would end on Sept. 20. Classes would resume Sept. 23 for the roughly 4,650 students in the district.

The district's 380 teachers are working under terms of a contract that expired on Aug. 15, 2011.

Shaler teachers are among the lowest paid in Allegheny County, according to the education department. In the 2012-13 school year, Shaler had the seventh-lowest average salary in the county — 13.7 percent lower than the county average.

Shaler teachers have an average salary of $56,362, according to the department. That's the lowest of the five school districts that share a physical border with the district — North Hills, North Allegheny, Hampton, Fox Chapel and Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Those districts are among those with the 11 highest average salaries in the county, ranging from $68,018 in North Hills to $74,363 in Fox Chapel.

But that's not how Shaler Area officials see things.

In July, officials renegotiated the district's Act 93 agreement — a document that outlines salaries and benefits for administrators and nonunion employees. Rather than comparing Shaler to adjoining districts, officials looked to districts with similar populations and economic status — Baldwin-Whitehall, Bethel Park, Gateway, McKeesport, Penn Hills, Plum and Woodland Hills.

The salary picture is different at those seven districts.

For instance, Woodland Hills teachers make an average of $52,967 per year, while the average Plum teacher salary is $79,442 — the second highest in Allegheny County.

District negotiators want the union to agree to a salary freeze in the first year of the contract, a concept union members have balked at, according to a fact-finder's report.

Salaries aren't the only sticking point. District officials want teachers to pay a higher percentage — at least 15 percent, depending on the plan — of health care premiums and have proposed adding a class period to secondary teachers' schedules.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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