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East Allegheny board rejects fact-finder's report, approves budget with no tax hike

| Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 7:23 a.m.

Before a standing-room-only crowd, East Allegheny School District's board of directors took several major actions Monday night.

The board again rejected a state fact-finder's teachers contract recommendation, while a 2012-13 budget was passed with no tax increase.

The $30,316,657 plan is slightly higher than the proposed final plan passed last month. It is based on a 27.54-mill real estate tax rate, with each mill netting approximately $462,000.

It was passed unanimously. However, a state fact-finder's recommendations for resolving a dispute with the 128-member East Allegheny Education Association again was rejected, this time by a 7-1 vote.

"We're extremely disappointed that the board again voted no to the fact-finder's recommendations," EAEA president Lou Gerbi said after the meeting, "a fact-finder that they requested and (a report that) includes numerous concessions from our members."

"The district cannot afford the recommendations," board members said in a resolution rejecting Robert C. Gifford's May 21 findings that included a wage freeze in the first year of a three-year contract, but a 0.5 percent raise plus an increase of one tenure step in years two and three.

With that latter suggestion, school director Frank Pearsol III said, the recommended annual raise "came out to slightly more than 4 percent."

School director Beverly Koch was the lone dissenter, as was the case at the first rejection of Gifford's recommendations last month. She said she had to vote her conscience.

"I thought it was fair," Koch said. "The teachers came a long way in the negotiations."

Koch has the perspective of a teacher, the job she has at Forbes Road Career and Technology Center. She said she's a union member, but in a different affiliate of the National and Pennsylvania State education associations than the EAEA.

Several dozen EAEA members attended the meeting in "TEACH" (Tell Everyone All Cuts Hurt) T-shirts. None spoke during the portion of the meeting given to public comment.

Gerbi said he has had three wage freezes during his 18 years as a teacher at East Allegheny. Gerbi addressed the district's use of the website to post a rebuttal to his comments as reported in area newspapers.

"The board should negotiate in good faith and accept the fact-finder's report," Gerbi wrote in a statement given to reporters prior to the meeting. "Let's get back to using the East Allegheny School District website to promote the accomplishments of our students."

The board's rebuttal said in part that "the East Allegheny School District is one of the most financially challenged school districts in the state." Gerbi's pre-meeting statement used a district action to question that.

"The board brought in Don Boyer, Montour School District superintendent and co-owner of Education Management Group, to testify regarding the district's financial health," Gerbi said. "Mr. Boyer testified that the district is not distressed."

Gerbi also rebutted a Daily News account that suggested that his union called for tax increases.

"I never, never asked for a tax increase," Gerbi said.Earlier stories quoted the Gifford report, zeroing in on what he called a summary provided by the union. It read in part:

"Millage rates for property taxes have not been rising at the (Pennsylvania Department of Education) Act 1 index, meaning that East Allegheny has been forgoing some of the revenue it needs to cover the expenditures." Pearsol said that index would allow a 0.58-mill tax hike in 2012-13.

"We asked when the last time was that the district raised taxes," Gerbi said.

There was one absent school director, William Gates. District business manager Toni Valicenti said Gates is recovering from recent surgery.

In light of his absence from recent meetings, Gates gave up his role as board treasurer, a post given unanimously to director Roxanne Sakoian Eichler. Valicenti said Gates is not resigning from the board itself.

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