Share This Page

Shaler teachers call strike 'last resort'

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 11:48 p.m.

Striking teachers at Shaler Area School District won't disclose the state of negotiations, maintaining their workforce is underpaid with too large a burden placed on health care insurance premiums.

“We've been at this for two years now,” Shaler teachers union President Melissa Ravas said. “Our position won't change or go away just because we're striking now. For us, this was a last resort.”

About 380 teachers went on strike Tuesday, which would have been the district's first day of classes.

District officials have argued that teachers' average salary — among the lowest in Allegheny County at $56,362 — was a result of the younger, less-experienced employees that replaced more than 300 retirees in the last 15 years.

Superintendent Wes Shipley said about 43 percent of the teaching staff has less than 10 years of classroom experience, though state records show Shaler teachers have an average of 13.3 years of experience. That includes an average of 12 years in Shaler Area schools.

In Allegheny County, teachers have an average of 12.9 years of experience, of which 11.6 years were spent in their current district. The average teacher salary in Allegheny County is $65,342.

In 2011, the median per capita income for a single person in Shaler Township was $30,837. The median family income with two or more earners was $65,851.

In August, negotiators urged Ravas and union leaders to agree to a salary and step freeze in the first year of any agreement. District officials proposed a step movement in the following years and salary increases to the lowest 10 steps and the highest step. The union rejected a step freeze and asked for a1.1 percent increase to all base salaries.

Shaler Area employees move through salary steps, which include pay increases, each year based on teaching experience and education.

District officials want teachers to pay a higher percentage — at least 15 percent, depending on the plan — of their health care premiums. The union tentatively agreed to an increase, though not 15 percent. Shipley said the two sides made progress on the health care issues during a three-hour negotiating session Wednesday night, but remain at a stalemate over salaries.

Shaler Area teachers now pay a monthly fee of $20 per individual and $40 per family HMO with the option for PPO.

A 2013 Employer Health Benefits Survey by the Kaiser Wellness Foundation found the national average for single employee health care contributions is 18 percent, above the district's offer.

Though neither side would detail their latest offers, Shipley said the district could not afford an across-the-board pay increase.

Jane Fisher, PTO vice president at Shaler Area Middle School, said her organization asked teachers and district officials last winter to open negotiations to the public. They didn't receive a response.

“We don't know what's been offered or what's been turned down,” Fisher said. “We don't know anything more than we knew when they decided to strike in June.”

The district pays retirement benefits worth $10,000 to $15,000 a year for each of the approximately 150 newly retired teachers under the age of 65.

“We were faced with rising costs and declining enrollment with an aging workforce worth $86,000 or more per teacher,” said Charlie Bennett, Shaler's director of business affairs. “By offering retirement incentives, we have to pay that health care premium, but we save a lot hiring entry-level teachers at around $40,000 a year.”

Shaler Area enrollment stands at about 4,650, about 1,000 fewer students than in 2000-01.

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com. Staff writers Bethany Hofstetter and Daveen Rae Kurutz contributed.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.