Teacher contract talks continue in Mt. Pleasant | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Teacher contract talks continue in Mt. Pleasant

Deb Erdley
904715_web1_gtr-MtPlezSchoolTalks
Jason Cato | Tribune-Review
A sign supporting Mt. Pleasant teachers in their union negotiations with the school district stands in a yard along Route 31.

Contract negotiations are set to resume Monday between the Mt. Pleasant Area School District and its teachers and other staff who have worked without a contract since Aug. 31.

Spokesmen for the school board and the Mt. Pleasant Area Education Association — the union representing 143 teaches, counselors, nurses and school psychologists — said talks, which were contentious after the board rejected a 56-page fact finder’s report in October, have been positive at recent negotiating sessions. They held out hope an agreement can be reached this spring.

The two sides remain divided over pay, benefits and classroom assignments.

“I would say they are moving in a better direction than they had been before. And we’re hoping that the board continues to move in a positive direction,” president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Education Association Terri Remaley said. “But the amount of days worked and increase in health care they are proposing would result in everyone taking home less money.”

The two sides have moved somewhat closer and teachers have been very supportive of a plan to reorganize the elementary school next fall, said John Sarnese, school board president. The plan calls for students in grades 4 to 6 to be housed in the Ramsey School in Mt. Pleasant, while children in kindergarten through third grade would continue to attend classes in Norvelt and Donegal.

Like Remaley, Sarnese said health care and salaries continue to be major issues. He said the union has reduced its salary demands but not to a level the district can afford.

The district cannot afford to subsidize family health care packages that now cost approximately $16,000 a year, he said. Union members contribute $60 a month, or $720 a year, toward that cost.

The district already exceeds Gov. Tom Wolf’s call for a statewide minimum starting salary of $45,000 a year for first-year teachers, Sarnese said.

“In 2017-18, the starting salary for first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree was of $46,219. For a beginning teacher with a master’s (degree), it was $47,219,” Sarnese said.

The district, which enrolls approximately 2,000 students, is seeking additional concessions regarding classroom assignments for teachers who are cross-certified in multiple course areas.

Remaley said that already occurs, but teachers are concerned about the potential for being bounced from class to class and having to master new material every year.

“Our concern is ensuring teachers are able to be master teachers in areas they teach,” she said.

The contract impasse is rapidly approaching the longest in Mt. Pleasant. Only once has the union worked until March without a contract, Remaley said.

In recent days, signs in support of the union have cropped up in yards across the district.

As talks continue, 12 primary candidates vie for nomination to run in the general election, the outcome of which could change the balance of power on the board. Five seats will be up for grabs on the nine-member board this fall. Incumbent board members opted not to seek re-election for two of those seats.

Sarnese said some candidates are related to district teachers.

Remaley did not dispute that.

“I feel there are some candidates who are concerned with education and who do not have hidden agendas,” she said.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Local | Westmoreland
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