Penn-Trafford officials discuss need for pay-freeze concession
Though the district's teachers rejected two mid-contract requests for a pay freeze, the Penn-Trafford School Board likely will want them to accept a year without a raise as part of the new labor contract, a district negotiator said.
School board member Rich Niemiec said he thinks the board needs to continue to press the Penn-Trafford Education Association for a pay freeze as a concession for a new deal to replace the five-year contract that expired June 30. For the 2014-15 budget, the school board froze administrators' salaries and negotiated a one-year pay freeze for the district's paraprofessionals, custodians and secretaries.
“We look at it as cost-containment, more than anything,” Niemiec said. “With the PSERS (pension costs) and things like that, we have to make savings where we can.”
In 2011 and 2012, the union refused the school board's appeals for a pay freeze. But the teachers might be willing to consider a limited freeze this time around that doesn't block younger teachers from moving up the 17-step salary scale and losing out on the compounding effect of annual raises, union President Shaun Rinier said.
“For the teachers that are at the top (of the scale), we have more leeway with it,” said Rinier, who is involved in his third contract negotiation since becoming union president in 2003.
P-T teachers have been among the best-compensated in the area, ranking fourth out of 17 Westmoreland County districts in 2011-12, the most-recent year available from the state Department of Education. That year, the average Penn-Trafford teacher earned $63,341.
Rinier said that figure probably is skewed a little, as he estimated that half of the P-T teachers might have been at the top of the district's salary scale that year. Primarily because of attrition related to retirements, the teaching staff dropped by 38 over the past six school years.
Rinier said he is aware that P-T teachers are well-paid compared to other local districts, but he contends they provide good value for students. State data released last year rated Penn-Trafford students' performance as second highest among the county's high schools.
“We're toward the top of the county (for pay), and our test scores are just about the best in the county, if not the best,” Rinier said. “I think the teachers in our district produce.”
In the contract that just ended, the pay for a teacher with a bachelor's degree starting at the first step of the pay scale increased from $38,300 in 2009-10 to $42,300 in 2013-14. The most-experienced teachers earned twice that much this past year: Educators at the top of the salary scale earned $87,272 if they had a bachelor's degree.
The base salary increases if a teacher has an advanced degree or a certain amount of continuing-education credits. The peak pay for a teacher with a doctorate and 17 years of experience is $92,163.
“What we have on the table right now, we think, is pretty fair,” said Rinier, declining to disclose details of current negotiations. “It should be a pretty good framework for getting something done.”
In another aspect of the negotiations, Niemiec said, the school board is considering offering a high-deductible health insurance plan through the Westmoreland County Public School Health Care Consortium.
So far, union members haven't shown a lot of interest in the plan, Niemiec said, but it doesn't cost the district anything to offer it among several health care options. Typically, a high-deductible plan lowers the premium cost for an employer.
Both Niemiec and Rinier said the negotiation sessions have been positive this year. The next session has not been scheduled yet.
“I think we are making progress,” Niemiec said. “We are coming away from the meetings with goodwill. Nobody's throwing daggers or anything.”
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-871-2363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.