District, aides to continue contract talks
After a three-month hiatus, contract talks will resume in early July between negotiators for the Penn Hills School District and the newly formed union for school aides, whose ranks were slightly diminished by a recent layoff.
While optimistic that a contract will be in place for the 2004-05 school year, union representative Dan Carey said "it doesn't look good" that the district has furloughed 15 of 128 instructional aides who have joined the Penn Hills Educational Support Professional Association.
"It certainly has a negative appearance, and we're hoping it's not relating to the organizing issue," Carey said, referring to the union formation. "But what we're interested in is getting to the table to move the process forward."
District officials maintain that the moves were made this month to save the district as much as $160,000 and to adjust to changing student needs -- not in response to the aides organizing.
Outgoing Penn Hills Superintendent Samuel DePaul said the furloughs were one of the tough parts of the job for administrators and the school board.
"We need to look at the instructional aides and support people on a yearly basis," DePaul said. "No special needs positions have been restructured."
Aides receive no benefits and are part-time employees, working a maximum of seven hours a day for $8 to $11 an hour.
Elisa O'Malley, president of the union local, said the union should have been involved in some administrative decisions, such as reclassification of aides. She said the two sides haven't met since April 6.
Penn Hills School District business manager Bruce Dakan said the furloughs were done "fairly, equitably and legally" and that those laid off will be eligible for unemployment compensation as well as the opportunity to rejoin the district if the need arises in the fall.
Counting the 15 aides who have been laid off, the union has 165 members. The service, instructional and health room aides voted late last year to join the 37 secretaries in the local.
School officials have discussed plans to replace the existing health room aides with eight licensed practical nurses.
"We plan to offer them membership," Carey said. "I can understand the district's concerns about administering medicine, care and treatment to students. It's not just handing out aspirin."
Describing the district's health room aides as "very competent," O'Malley said she doesn't rule out the possibility of them assisting licensed practical nurses.
"If they really do hire eight LPNs, that could be a good thing," O'Malley said. "But I don't see any savings there. If anything, it's going to cost the district more."
The next bargaining session on the first contract for the aides, scheduled for July 6, likely will be attended by district solicitor Al Maiello, incoming Superintendent Patricia Gennari and Dakan.