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Progress reported in Penn-Trafford contract talks

| Thursday, Feb. 2, 2006

Optimism seemed to be the catchword after the latest bargaining session between the Penn-Trafford School District and its teachers union.

The two sides met for 2 1/2 hours Wednesday for the first time since Nov. 29.

Penn-Trafford's 263 teachers have been without a contract since a six-year pact expired in June.

Neither side wanted to reveal much about yesterday's discussions, but both felt positive about the session.

"I thought it was probably the most productive meeting we've ever had," said Shaun Rinier, president of the Penn-Trafford Education Association. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

Margaret DiNinno, district spokesperson, had similar sentiments.

"I would say we're very optimistic,' DiNinno said. "We definitely have made progress. There was a lot of open dialogue."

DiNinno said meetings are planned Feb. 21 and Feb. 22.

Four bargaining sessions were held in November in exchange for teachers returning to the classroom after a 12-day work stoppage.

DiNinno said the district had hoped to get a written proposal from the union yesterday.

"We did not receive a written proposal, but we had open dialogue that was very positive," she said. "We were optimistic walking in and we left feeling the same way."

In December, the district sent a proposal to the teachers, who in turn expressed disappointment in the offer.

Salaries and benefits have been the two main points of contention in the negotiations.

In a recent proposal, teachers sought an average salary increase of $3,550 per year over four years. The district had been offering an average annual raise of $2,400 per teacher for four years.

Another matter of discussion has been the salary step scale. The steps generally represent the years it takes a teacher to reach maximum salary. Penn-Trafford currently has a 19-step salary scale, with teachers reaching a maximum salary of about $64,000.

Teachers have been seeking a reduction in steps from the current 19 to 17. After proposing 23 steps, the district reduced that to 19 in the December proposal.

The union also has approached an outside carrier, Health America, about possibly handling the district's health insurance. Teachers currently pay $204 a month toward health care.

Rinier said key to yesterday's talks was a stronger involvement by board President Nick Petrucci.

"The board president took a greater role, and I thought we had some good dialogue," Rinier said. "I really felt being able to speak back and forth with the board president is the way to get a contract scheduled. We weren't at each other's throats."

Petrucci also felt good about the session.

"I thought it was very satisfactory," he said.

The school board will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the high school auditorium.

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