ASD, union to meet Friday

| Wednesday, April 1, 2009

MANOR -- In an effort to avoid a teacher strike in the Armstrong School District next week, the state-appointed mediator has asked both sides to meet again Friday.

According to a news release issued by the district Wednesday, district solicitor Lee Price, members of the school board of directors and administrators will attend the meeting. The mediator has attended all negotiation sessions between the two sides.

Price said the district gave its contract proposal to the union last Wednesday and is awaiting a formal response.

"The salary and health care premium contributions are part of a package, and as inter-related items, they will have a significant impact on the district's budget both now and in the future," he said.

The union announced in February that it would go on strike on April 9, next Thursday, if the contract was not settled by then. Union leaders have stated that they were close to an agreement after two recent meetings, but that talks fell apart with the offer made by the district last week.

Armstrong Education Association president Tom Burkett confrimed Friday's meeting and said he hopes a settlement can be reached.

If the teachers would strike, the first day the students would be affected would be Monday, April 13. The strike would most likely last through that week with students returning to the classrooms on Monday, April 20.

According to state law, there must be 180 instructional days completed by June 15, which would limit the length of the strike.

District officials said the strike would last six days, including April 9 and the week of April 13-17. Friday, April 10 is a holiday and that day would not have to be made up. The state education department will officially determine the length of the strike, according to district officials.

Administrators said they presented their "Teachers' Strike Contingency Plan" to the school board during an executive session Monday evening. It outlined major items that will have a direct impact on students and staff in the event of a strike, such as planned educational field trips, athletics, the interruption of academic classes, teacher conferences and workshops, and the moving of the graduation date.

If a strike occurs, the graduation date for seniors will be pushed back to a later date in June, although the exact date is not yet available. If no strike takes place, seniors are scheduled to graduate Thursday, June 4, according to the district.

The district's contingency plan also addresses school district operations such as other non-teacher employee groups, contracted services, and security. It details a communication procedure that has been developed, including letters to parents and memos to leaders of employee groups such as secretaries, custodians, maintenance, teacher aides, and food service personnel, according to the district.

In the event of a strike, there will be no interruption of services for students enrolled at Lenape Technical School, Adelphoi Village alternative education, or in special needs schools operated outside Armstrong School District, the district said.

The district's 486 teachers have been working under the terms of a four-year contract, which expired June 30, 2008. Under the current contract, teachers, with the exception of about 225 teachers at the top of the pay scale, received a 3.25 percent increase each year of the contract. Those at the top of the scale received an average 1.9 percent increase each year.

The union is seeking a five-year deal to replace the existing contract. The last strike in the district was during the 1986-87 school year and lasted 25 days.

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