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Shaler Area teachers strike must end in two weeks

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By Megan Harris
Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 1:21 p.m.
 

Shaler Area School District officials say they can't afford the salary increase proposed by the teachers union, outlining their case in a series of detailed reports they released online.

Teachers must end the strike they started Sept. 3 and return to classrooms by Sept. 24 with or without a new contract, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Superintendent Wes Shipley has said negotiators made “significant progress” toward an agreement on health insurance contributions but remain at a stalemate regarding salaries. The district made an offer, he said, and is awaiting a counterproposal from the Shaler Area Education Association, which represents 380 teachers.

Shaler Area teachers move through 19 salary “steps,” which include annual raises based on experience and education. Those steps add 3.1 percent to payroll costs every year, worth between $4,000 to $5,000 per teacher between steps 11 and 19, said Charles Bennett, Shaler Area's director of business affairs.

Teachers proposed in May to increase payroll steps to 4.2 percent. Union President Melissa Ravas declined to elaborate on the union's current proposal, but said that figure has decreased.

“We realize the incremental costs at Shaler are high but if we do what the district is proposing, the issue is going to be far worse,” she said.

Last month, state-appointed mediators urged union leaders to agree to a salary freeze in the first year of an agreement. They proposed salary increases for teachers in the first 10 steps and the last step.

“The people in the middle were getting nice raises but we wanted to look ahead for what we could realistically provide to the younger staff and those career teachers who aren't subject to annual step increases anymore,” Bennett said.

Ravas disagreed with that reasoning.

“The district wants to increase step raises for the younger teachers. So, say that equals $1,000 your first few years and $500 for those with more experience,” she said. “Those will compound and that's only going to make the financial situation worse five, 10, 15 years from now.”

According to the district, some previous contracts featured late-career salary steps worth as much as $30,000 between the 18th and 19th steps. In the last two or three contracts, the district and union agreed to redistribute that cash to steps 10 through 19.

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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