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Penn Hills School District officials extend teachers' contract

Michael DiVittorio
| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, 9:44 p.m.
The main entrance to Penn Hills High School.
The main entrance to Penn Hills High School.

Penn Hills’ teachers and school district officials have agreed to extend their contract by three years.

In two of those years, salaries will be frozen but the teachers’ health care contributions won’t increase, either.

The original contract between the school district and the Penn Hills Education Association ran from July 1, 2014 through June 30.

The board voted 5-0 at its November meeting to extend the deal through June 30, 2021.

Board Vice President George Sens and Directors Robert Marra, Evelyn Herbert and Kristopher Wiegand were absent.

Teachers making the top of the 19-step pay scale will receive a 2 percent raise this school year, and other teachers will move up to the next step in this, the contract extension’s first year.

Wage freezes will be implemented next school year and in the extension’s year, 2020-21. There are about 230 union members.

Teachers agreed to pay more for health care in this school year as part of the wage bump, but their insurance contributions level for the next two school years during the wage freeze.

Penn Hills teacher salaries range between the mid-$40,000 to more than $92,000, according to state Department of Education figures.

Board President Erin Vecchio said it’s the best deal the district could offer given its fiscal circumstances.

“They worked with us,” Vecchio said. “We’re trying not to lay anybody off right now, and they know that we’re in a financial mess. They’re working with us to make sure we get the best education possible.”

Superintendent Nancy Hines commended both negotiating teams and noted the teachers never threatened a strike. A state mediator got involved in the discussions last January.

“We were able to start talks early and were very successful,” Hines said. “I don’t know of any teachers group or any employee group, other than our own, who’s agreed to two years of a pay freeze. These are really tough conversations.”

Hines said the district remains in financial dire straights, but some bond payment reimbursements have improved its fiscal standing.

The board approved this school year’s budget in late June with a tax hike, 12 teacher furloughs and a promise of state financial aid.

Penn Hills is about $172 million in debt, largely due to the construction of the elementary and high school.

Hines said the district could have voted on the deal at a special meeting in October, but pushed the vote back to its November meeting hoping for a bigger audience.

There was no public comment on the contract, and only a few members of the general public were in the audience Tuesday.

That’s something not missed by board member Yusef Thompson, Sr.

“It’s a shame that our staff out-number the people in the community,” he said. “We thank the young faithful (who did attend). We’re going to get over this hump.”

Union President Rodlyn Checcio after the meeting called the agreement a fair deal for both sides.

“We’re in an interesting situation as a district,” she said. “I think it was fair.”

Checcio’s been in the district 27 years. She became union leader in May.

“It was a quick learning experience,” Checcio said. “I came on board, had to get caught up with everything they were talking about and move forward from there. Luckily we had a really good negotiations team and they were able to fill me in.”

Negotiations began in the fall 2017. The agreement was posted with the November school board voting meeting agenda .

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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