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Shaler teachers OK strike, rip board president

| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 12:32 p.m.

The Shaler Area teachers union moved a step closer to striking and on Tuesday accused the school board president of attempting to make the teachers look bad.

The union unanimously approved a strike authorization Monday night, a month after teachers said they were no longer participating in volunteer activities because they were continuing to work under the terms of a contract that expired in August 2011. The two sides have been meeting since January 2011.

“We asked our members for strike authorization because the school board has repeatedly demonstrated that it will not bargain in good faith,” union President Melissa Ravas said in a statement. “The teachers love the kids, but we are tired of being disrespected by board President Jim Giel and the board directors that he leads.”

Giel said “everything” appeared to be a sticking point but said another negotiating session is scheduled for Dec. 6. He said 70 percent of district residents don't have kids in school and senior citizens can't afford a tax increase.

“This is a tactic. I think that they think they're going to pressure the board,” Giel said. “It's a shame. I know our guys are trying to hammer out a financially reasonable deal.”

Under state law, teachers must give districts at least 48 hours' notice before striking. The vote gives Shaler union leaders, who represent 380 teachers, approval to call a strike, said Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Butch Santicola.

The union criticized the district for maintaining a $7.5 million fund balance while, they say, eliminating teachers and increasing class sizes. Ravas also said teachers last year proposed a one-year pay freeze. The district has 4,768 students.

Giel said the district needs to keep a healthy fund balance to pay for upcoming large increases in payments to the teachers' pension fund, debt service and any budget overruns.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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