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Valley News Dispatch

War of words over Plum teacher situation escalates with district-wide email

Michael DiVittorio
| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, 12:06 a.m.

Contract talks between Plum School District and the teachers union appear to be heating up more in the public eye than at the negotiating table.

The school district sent out an email to parents Tuesday outlining a series of what it called facts to combat a news release issued by the Plum Borough Education Association earlier this month.

Tuesday’s email accused the union of spreading misrepresentations and falsehoods and peddling a misleading narrative regarding teachers, pay, recent furloughs and the administration.

“As Chief Negotiator for the District, I felt it was appropriate that I respond and inform the Plum Borough Community and stakeholders regarding the facts related to the negotiations process and dispel the misrepresentations and falsehoods,” the district’s chief negotiator, attorney Michael Brungo, wrote in the email, titled “ Facts Are Stubborn Things ” and also available on the district’s website.

Union President David Gray said it stands by what it put in its Nov. 20 press release . The release was posted to the union’s Facebook page and announced its members authorized its negotiation team to call for a strike if necessary.

Both parties began collective bargaining in January with formal talks in June, according to the union’s chief negotiator David Vitula. The next negotiation session is set for Thursday.

Both Gray and Vitula called the district’s letter “propaganda from a high-priced lawyer.”

The union has publicized the loss of 30 teachers and full-day kindergarten, overcrowded classrooms and an alleged “wish-list” crafted by the administration.

Brungo stated in district email that the district originally furloughed 26 teachers and noted that the union has failed to mention that 7.5 of those 26 positions have been called back and are currently teaching. It also stated elementary and secondary class sizes meet or are under administrative regulations.

“This misleading narrative is being forwarded by the PBEA leadership because they are well aware the district was overstaffed and they are protecting jobs, not advancing the students’ educational interests,” the letter read.

Brungo also wrote that the district was forced to switch to half-day kindergarten based in large part on a $5 million deficit incurred based on years of expenditures not matched with revenue streams.

Brungo said the administration’s wish list includes keeping schools safe, increase levels of student achievement and academic rigor, maximize fiscal responsibility, satisfy customers and community, cultivate a first-rate workforce and measure against the best.

Brungo claimed the union wants to “redirect the public’s attention away from the Plum teacher salaries and benefits package which is ranked 6th highest in Allegheny County (2017-18 school year prior to furloughs) with an average salary of $83,366 based on a total of 188 workdays in a full year.”

Average salary projected in 2018-19 is around $84,700.

Gray said average salaries would be inflated because the 20-plus furloughed teachers were on the lower pay scales.

“If any district cuts 22 of the lowest paying job it’s going to inflate salaries,” he said. “They can play numbers games all they want. We’re not redirecting anything. We explained to our members what’s going on. We told them what’s happening.”

Vitula said in the last two negotiation sessions, Oct. 24 and Nov. 6, the district provided no counter proposal to salaries. He said the school board does not plan to raise teacher payroll in the next three to five years, based on conversations with district officials.

The union voted Nov. 20 to grant its negotiation team the authority to call a strike.

Union membership is 232. The district would be notified at least 48 hours in advance of any strike.

Vitula said the district’s letter would not influence that decision.

“It’s unfortunate it had to go out into the public this way,” Vitula said. “They’re dragging their feet. Our younger teachers aren’t getting to move up steps. We already took a wage freeze in the last contract. They spend all kinds of money on all kinds of other things. They don’t value what we do. It’s a shame because we do care about the district. A lot of us have been here a lot of years and care for what’s best for students, what’s best for everybody.”

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, mdivittorio@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

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