South Butler group plans rally ahead of teacher strike; sides bargaining into late Tuesday night
A group of concerned South Butler School District residents are planning to hold a rally tonight as the district grapples with teacher contract talks and the threat of a strike.
The South Butler School Action Committee will host a “Heal Our Community” rally at 6:30 p.m. at South Butler Primary School.
The group was formed in August, according to co-founder Heather Helsel of Penn Township.
It's intended to call community members to action, increase transparency between the school board and community, and provide more opportunities for “local activism” within the district, she said. Helsel, who has a 9-month-old son, said the group isn't taking sides in the contract talks.
“We really do think this has been a divisive thing,” she said. “Our goal would be to eliminate the sides and focus on our students and having quality education in the district.”
Helsel said the group hopes the district can meet the teachers union's demands without raising taxes, giving them a fair, comprehensive and retroactive agreement.
District solicitor Thomas Breth said the two sides were still in talks late Tuesday. He would not comment on whether any progress had been made.
“We're focused on trying to get it done,” he said during a break shortly before 11 p.m. He could not be reached for comment later in the evening, suggesting talks were ongoing.
Teachers have threatened to strike starting on Thursday. Breth confirmed that school has been canceled for Thursday regardless of whether a contract agreement is reached today.
The last contract between South Butler teachers and the district expired June 30, 2014. They have been unable to agree on issues such as the length of the contract, wages and health care.
The district has 168 teachers and serves K-12 students in Clinton, Jefferson, Penn and Winfield townships and Saxonburg.
If a strike occurs, it will be the district's fifth teachers strike in the past 40 years.
In addition to canceling classes Thursday, the district moved its school board meeting scheduled for tonight to March 21 to accommodate an additional negotiating session, in case a tentative settlement wasn't reached Tuesday night.