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Education

Striking Peters Township teachers headed back to school Friday

| Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, 3:36 p.m.
Peters Township High School teachers, who did not want to give their names, continue to strike outside their building Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Peters Township High School teachers, who did not want to give their names, continue to strike outside their building Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015.
Peters Township High School teachers, who did not want to give their names, continue to strike outside the school on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Peters Township High School teachers, who did not want to give their names, continue to strike outside the school on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015.

Peters Township students will return to school Friday after a 21-day teachers strike, but the educators could stage another walkout if a contract agreement isn't reached soon.

Nearly 300 teachers, counselors and nurses went on strike Oct. 28 after months of failed contract negotiations, forcing the district's approximately 4,300 students out of the classroom.

Wednesday marks the 21st school day of the strike, which is the maximum amount of time allowed by a state law that requires students to receive 180 days of instruction during the school year.

Negotiators for the Peters Township School District and Local 3431 of the American Federation of Teachers will head into non-binding arbitration, during which the two sides will present their final, best contract offers to three arbitrators, according to the district. After a public comment period, the panel will propose a compromise agreement.

If the compromise is rejected, the law allows for the teachers to strike again. If that happens, the last day of school would be pushed back from June 15 to June 30, district spokeswoman Shelly Belcher said.

“We're very hopeful that in having these neutral parties come in that we can make some headway,” she said.

The contract, which covers 285 employees, expired Aug. 31. Negotiators for both sides met 21 times since then — including four times during the strike — in unsuccessful attempts to end the stalemate, Belcher said.

The district and the union remain split over salaries, class sizes and the length of workdays, said Paul Homer, staff representative for AFT Pennsylvania. He wouldn't comment on whether the teachers are planning another strike.

Peters Township teachers' salaries for the 2014-15 school year ranged from $45,900 for a first-year teacher to $104,000 for a teacher with a master's degree.

“Our goal is to acquire a fair and equitable deal,” Homer said. “We have no optimism. These people are obstinate in their beliefs, and they continue to cry poor. They are in an affluent, middle-class community.”

The union reported that someone tried to intimidate picketers by leaving dead animals near the picket line last week, including a dead deer that was painted blue with the union's initials written on it.

Peters police said they had identified four teenage boys as suspects in the incidents.

Homer said people have been honking, waving and bringing food to the picketers outside the high school.

“We believe the majority of people in the community support the teachers,” he said.

The strike raised questions from parents about how it will impact the students, particularly high school seniors and students who will take Advanced Placement exams, Belcher said.

Graduation is still scheduled for June 10, and the district will work hard to make sure AP students get the instruction they need before their exams, she said. A revised calendar has been posted on the district's website.

“I think our parents are concerned,” Belcher said. “They want their kids back in school and concerned about where we're going to pick up from here. It will be good for all of us to be back in the classroom together.”

Elizabeth Behrman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at lbehrman@tribweb.com or 412-320-7886.

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