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Officials gear up for contract talks with Plum teachers

| Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Plum School District officials settled the current five-year contract with their teachers before the previous one expired.

School board member Kevin Dowdell doesn't think the same will happen with in the negotiations for a new pact, expected to start next month.

“My guess is that it won't be an early bird,” Dowdell said after last week's board meeting at which board President Sal Colella appointed Dowdell to the district's negotiating team. Michael Brewer, the district's administrative-services director, and Solicitor Lee Price are the other members of the district's negotiating team.

Officials of the Plum Borough Education Association, or PBEA, declined to identify the members of its negotiating team.

The five-year pact between the district and the PBEA, which represents the district's nearly 270 teachers, expires Aug. 31.

The first negotiation session is scheduled for Jan. 10.

“We are ready,” said PBEA treasurer J.R. Pilyih, who attended the Dec. 17 school board meeting.

Pilyih referred questions to PBEA President Martha Freese.

When asked for comments about the upcoming negotiations, the PBEA provided a written statement.

“In accordance with Act 195, contract negotiations between the PBEA and the PBSD (Plum Borough School District) will begin on or before January 10, 2014,” the statement reads. “The PBEA has a negotiations team in place, and we are looking forward to working with the district on a new collective bargaining agreement.”

Dowdell, who this month began his third four-year term as a member of the school board, said his biggest priority with any potential contract before considering it for a vote is making sure all parties have year-by-year projections of what the pact would cost the district.

“I want to know what it costs over the life of the contract,” Dowdell said.

The current five-year contract included $1 million increases for teacher salaries in each of the five years.

Dowdell said in June that the average salary for a Plum teacher is about $78,000. The starting salary is about $47,500.

He also said about 51 of the nearly 270 teachers receiving raises of between $10,000 and $12,000 this school year.

And about 76 teachers are making salaries over $100,000.

Comparatively, the median household income in Plum is $66,680, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Dowdell said the amounts are “unsustainable.”

“The salary increases exceed taxpayers' salaries,” Dowdell said. “They (teachers) should be getting what is comparable to the average citizen in Plum. Decades ago, teachers were underpaid, but they got caught up.”

Dowdell also has concerns because the projected deficit in the 2014-15 budget is about $1.5 million without any teacher salary increases included in it.

The contract negotiations will represent the first formal talks district officials and board members have had with PBEA officials since the 2013-14 budget talks that turned contentious.

The union had agreed to about $500,000 worth of concessions, in part by teacher-salary reductions for the 2013-14 school year, Dowdell has said. Talks broke down when the board decided against a one-year contract extension through June 30, 2015.

Board members said a one-year contract extension would have cost the district an additional $900,000 in salaries for the 2014-15 school year. PBEA officials contend the contract extension would have resulted in an additional $727,758 in salaries.

No deal materialized.

Dowdell also wants to look at language in the contract. For example, Dowdell would like to eliminate a provision that gives permission for employees to leave 15 minutes early on paydays.

Dowdell said the provision is not necessary because the majority of employees have direct deposit.

“It (a new contract) has to be sustainable,” Dowdell said.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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