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Seneca board rejects proposal from teachers

| Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007

The Seneca Valley School Board Monday night rejected a proposal by striking teachers that would have allowed students to return to school this week.

The proposal, which was defeated by a vote of 8-0, was not an agreement on a new contract, but would have ended the strike, which is now in its fourth week. Board member Jeffrey Widdowson was absent.

"As of right now, it looks like we won't be back in school until next Friday," said Patrick Andrekovich, chief negotiator for the district's teachers.

"We offered them a 4 percent (salary) increase, which is what they said they wanted, and they voted no."

Under the proposal, teachers said they would have accepted annual pay raises of 4 percent for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years and one of three health care plans, two of which include premium payment and a third that includes higher co-payments and deductibles.

The teachers' proposal -- which was made during a six-hour negotiating session yesterday -- would have required 10 bargaining meetings before Jan. 16 to sort out the terms of the remaining three years of a proposed five-year contract.

The board voted on the teachers' proposal after hearing a presentation by its chief negotiator, Thomas King, who maintained the teachers were actually asking for a 6.3 percent pay raise.

"We have different numbers," he said.

The board then voted with almost no comment.

"Both sides are completely at fault for the way this has been handled for two years," said Ken Dash of Cranberry, the parent of two children in the district, which has about 7,600 students. "We need a way out of this."

Contract talks began in early 2006. The teachers have been working without a contract since June 30, 2006.

The district's 585 teachers walked off the job on Oct. 15. The state Department of Education said that under state law the strike could last through Nov. 14. However, the teachers said yesterday they don't have to be back on the job until Nov. 16.

District negotiators have said they will not go above a 4 percent annual increase and have asked for monthly contributions toward health care of $10 in the contract's first year, rising to $50 in the fifth year.

The teachers -- whose salaries average $53,500 -- have said the district's wages are not competitive with similar districts in Allegheny County.

A crowd estimated at 400 -- many of them teachers -- attended last night's meeting in the school auditorium, which originally was scheduled as a planning session. The only matter brought to vote was the teachers' proposal.

Those in attendance generally expressed anger toward the board in public comments made before the vote.

"I am angry that this is going on for three weeks. I don't have any power whatsoever. Please work around the clock to get this done," said parent Allison Steel of Cranberry.

Another parent, Steve Williams of Cranberry, complained to the board about King.

"You guys have made a bad choice of a lawyer who drags out labor disputes. I'm the taxpayer, I'm the customer, and I'm not pleased."

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