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Shaler Area teachers strike comes to an end

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By Bethany Hofstetter and Megan Harris
Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Shaler Area School District students returned to class on Friday, because teachers and district officials ratified a five-year contract, ending a teachers strike that delayed the start of the school year by more than a week.

The strike began on Sept. 3, more than two years since the union's contract expired, and ended Sept. 11, when the sides approved the proposal in separate meetings. Educators started work on Sept. 12.

“We're really excited to get back to school and be with our kids,” said Melissa Ravas, a high school math teacher and president of Shaler Area Education Association.

The contract settles disagreements on health care premiums, but doesn't address quarrels about teacher salary increases, a matter that school administrators hope to resolve in coming weeks through binding arbitration.

In a 7-2 vote, with John Fries and Mary Lou Dixon dissenting, the school board approved the contract at a special voting meeting on Sept. 12. The contract is retroactive to August 2011 and runs through Aug. 15, 2016.

“It's been a tough 2½ years,” school board President James Giel told an audience of teachers, parents and community members. “Now, it's time to heal.”

Those in attendance urged the board to take action to help the community heal.

Shaler Area parent Chris Weaver, a teacher in the Brentwood School District, said measures should be taken to prevent lengthy negotiations and ultimately a strike in the future.

“The contract is up in two years. ... I am hoping we have the ability not to allow it to come to this point, not waste our tax dollars to pay for lawyers, to be smarter with our money,” Weaver said.

The district, which has about 4,700 students, is slated to begin arbitration with union officials as soon as next month. A three-member panel will evaluate each side's final offers. The panel's decision will be non-negotiable.

Shaler Area Superintendent Wes Shipley said both parties made significant concessions at meetings on Monday and Tuesday last week led by a state-appointed mediator.

Ravas said “an overwhelming majority” of the union's 390 members voted by secret ballot to accept the contract, forgoing picket lines last Wednesday morning.

The contract includes increases in health insurance contributions. HMO family coverage will increase to $100 a month. Shaler Area teachers pay a monthly fee of $20 per individual and $40 per family HMO with the option for PPO.

Shipley, who declined to detail the full contract, said teachers agreed to increases in all plans.

In August, negotiators urged Ravas and union leaders to agree to a salary freeze in the first year of any agreement. District officials proposed salary increases to newer, less-experienced teachers and to those employed 20 years or longer. The union rejected a freeze and asked for a small increase to all base salaries on top of the approximately 3 percent automatic annual pay raise based on years of service and education.

Ravas and Shipley said they would present the salary proposal once arbitrators are chosen.

The district plans to adjust the student calendar, but Shipley said it should not affect Shaler's commencement, set for June 13.

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com. Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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