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Valley News Dispatch

Plum School District and teachers union official turn mum on contract talks

Michael DiVittorio
| Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, 8:36 p.m.

Plum School District and teachers union officials plan to remain publicly silent about contract talks after both sides went at each other online and in emails in an effort to update their constituents.

A negotiation session took place Thursday between the district, Plum Borough Education Association and state-appointed mediator Robert Lavery.

Attorney Michael Brungo, the district’s chief negotiator, said Lavery recommended both sides refrain from banter in the media, social websites and other related sources.

“We are agreement to not talk about negotiations and see what we can do moving forward,” Brungo said Friday evening. “We’re continuing to negotiate in good faith and hopefully can come to an agreement.”

This comes days after Brungo released an email to parents, titled “ Facts Are Stubborn Things ,” which is also available on the district’s website.

It was in response to a Nov. 20 press release sent out by the union and posted to its Facebook page.

The release announced that its members authorized its negotiation team to call for a strike if necessary.

The last four-year contract expired June 30. The district let go of multiple staffers due to budget cuts ahead of the 2018-19 school year.

District administrators and school board members deferred all contract questions to Brungo.

Union President David Gray and negotiator David Vitula deferred comments Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Matt Edgell.

Edgell declined to talk about the latest session, but outlined the union’s position as of this week.

“Bottom line is that the teachers have fewer resources and more students in the classroom,” he said. “They don’t feel the district is bargaining in good faith, and they’ve had it. They’re at their tolerance level.”

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 the district’s 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.

The union has not called for a strike, and would need to give the district at least 48 hours notice should that happen. Union membership is 262.

The last day of school is June 6, according to the district’s academic calendar .

Edgell said state law mandates students receive 180 days of instruction by June 15, which means teachers could go on strike a maximum of six instructional days based on the calendar.

Teachers could strike twice in a school year. The second would take place only after further arbitration efforts fail.

Edgell said two strikes could push the academic year to the end of June.

“Nobody wants that,” he said. “We prepare for the worst and work and hope for the best.”

Public displays

Teachers and students were missed Thursday evening as the third annual Christmas at Plum Creek celebration went on without a performance from the high school jazz band and choir.

Borough officials said teachers gave them less than 48-hours notice that they would not be attending, which meant no concert.

Mayor Harry Schlegel blamed union heads for the lack of community support.

“This is a chance for (students) to perform before the community, not just their high school students and parents,” the mayor said at the event. “They didn’t get that opportunity because, I understand, some teachers wanted to come down, but the union leadership told them no.”

Edgell disputed that thought.

“The leadership is not directing them in anyway shape or form,” he said. “It is a volunteer army right now. If people aren’t coming to events, it’s because they’re just too busy with everything on their plates right now and the climate. Fewer resources, more kids equals less time (for other activities).”

Gray and Vitula declined to comment.

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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