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Bethel Park seeks fact-finding in teacher negotiations

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 5:30 p.m.

The Bethel Park School District has requested a state-appointed fact-finder to make recommendations in the ongoing negotiations with the district's teachers union, a move that precludes the possibility of a strike at the beginning of the school year.

District leaders made the request Wednesday after their 21st round of negotiations with the Bethel Park Federation of Teachers, which has been working under the terms of an expired contract since June 30, 2010.

State law prohibits the union from going on strike during a fact-finding inquiry. The process requires time for the state to appoint a third party, time for both sides to present their best contract offers, 40 days for the fact-finder to issue recommendations and 10 days for the district and the union to notify the state whether they accept or reject the recommendations as the basis for a new contract.

District spokeswoman Vicki Flotta and federation President Diann Smith said teachers didn't intend to strike as students prepared to return to school Sept. 3.

“We're doing it because we feel it's a good tool to use going forward,” Flotta said.

Union representatives said the district's request surprised them.

“We negotiated today and nothing was said. ... In the past, it was discussed as to what the other side was considering,” said Smith, who called a negotiation session this month productive.

“(A strike) was always on the back burner, but it's not been discussed with the members,” Smith said. “We've not had a general membership meeting all summer. ... I told the members last year that we'd bring them any major decisions like that.”

The two sides can continue to negotiate during fact-finding, Flotta said. Through three years of negotiation and a six-week strike in late 2010, the two sides continue to disagree primarily over salaries and benefits issues. Non-binding arbitration in 2011 set the stage for a contract, but both sides rejected the recommendations.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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