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Teachers go to board meeting

| Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2005

Several Penn-Trafford teachers attended a school board meeting Monday night to indicate what they feel about the lack of a new contract.

The six-year pact for the district's 260 teachers expired at the end of June. More than 100 people crammed into the meeting room last night.

Shaun Rinier, president of the Penn-Trafford Education Association, read a prepared statement.

"The district and its teachers have now been bargaining for approximately 10 months," Rinier said. "We have not achieved a contract and remain very far apart on major issues."

Among the main sticking points in negotiations are salaries and health care costs. Penn-Trafford has a 19-step salary scale, with teachers reaching a maximum salary of about $64,000. Teachers are looking to lower that to 17 steps.

The union also has been seeking lower health care costs, or at least a different health plan. Teachers currently contribute $204 a month toward health care.

Rinier spoke last night against the district's hiring of attorney William Andrews to help with negotiations at a price tag Rinier said was $125 an hour.

"I feel the hiring of a professional negotiator will increase problems at the bargaining table and may significantly lengthen the current stalemate we are experiencing," Rinier said. "We have an elected school board, a well-compensated administration and already have a district-paid attorney on retainer. These are the people that have a stake in providing the children of the district with a superior education. These are the people that should be bargaining in good faith with the teachers, not an outside entity."

Deborah Kolonay had said that with so much going on in the district at the beginning of the school year, a negotiator was brought in to help.

"There's just so much happening," she said at the time. "As negotiations continue, it's a strain on the staff."

A state mediator also is aiding the negotiations.

The last negotiating session was held Sept. 7, but another is not scheduled until Oct. 11.

"It's very hard to set a bargaining session because there's so many people that have to get together," Rinier said after the meeting.

He was the only teacher to speak, and his statement received a lengthy applause. The meeting adjourned immediately after Rinier's statement.

Rinier said teachers will have what he termed an "informational town hall meeting" at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Pitzer's Townhouse in Jeannette. He said it will be a forum on "what the issues are, what was done and where we're headed."

He maintained the union does not want to strike and reported to work in August without a new deal. However, that does not mean a strike would not happen.

"It's not my intent to strike," Rinier said. "It's never a teacher's intention to strike, but we feel we're backed into a corner. If it was just us and them, it would probably be a lot easier."

He said the earliest a strike could occur would be in October.

A strike vote was taken in April. Of the 207 members who voted, 206 approved a strike.

Rinier also said he was happy with the turnout by union members.

"I expected it," Rinier said. "We're well-unified and we're going to continue to be."

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