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Tuscarora teachers willing to strike if agreement not reached

July 30, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, PA. -- Two scheduled negotiating sessions remain for the Tuscarora School Board and unionized teachers before classes start Sept 2.

Since the teachers worked the entire 2004-05 school year and part of the 2005-06 session without a ratified contract during the last round of bargaining, they talked "long and hard" about whether to put themselves in that position for the coming year, according to Marcia Bender, who is working with the members of the Tuscarora Education Association through the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Bender said teachers haven't forgotten that they ended up with a 1.6 percent pay increase for the time worked without a contract, and they're willing to strike if the two sides don't reach an agreement in the coming weeks.

"From the perspective of the association, it did not benefit them at all to work under the old agreement. They took a hit," she said.

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Carl Beard, an attorney working with the school board, said his clients went to the bargaining table with a proposal that closely mirrors what a factfinder presented in a recent report. The school board approved the proposals put forth in William F. Caldwell's report, but the education association rejected them.

Among the recommendations were salary increases of 4.25 percent to 4.4 percent each year for the next four years of the contract.

"The association said no, they want closer to 6 percent," Beard said.

The salary proposals put forth by Caldwell would translate into average increases of about $10,000 over the course of the contract, Beard said.

"Taxpayers aren't getting an additional $2,400 a year on average," he said.

Bender argued that Tuscarora teachers are the lowest paid in Franklin County, although Beard said it's unfair to make comparisons with bigger districts. Also, Beard said the board wants to compare teacher salaries with districts on the other side of the Franklin-Fulton line, but Bender said her bargaining unit doesn't "see Fulton County as a comparison group."

In addition to salary increases, another sticking point for the association, which has about 180 members, is the contribution toward health care, Bender said.

Prior to the latest contract - agreed upon in early 2006 - teachers did not contribute toward health-care premiums. In the current contract, they pay about 14 percent, Beard said. Even though there would be a reduction to 9 percent the first two years, 9.5 percent the third year and 10 percent the fourth year, the union's stand is that the teachers pay too much already.

Bender said the teachers association also has issues with three members of the bargaining unit not being paid on their correct "step" on the pay scale, and with coaches and club advisers not being paid more if their team advances to games or activities beyond the regular season.

"From our perspective, we're willing to sit down and talk to resolve these issues," Bender said.

"The district wanted to get it over and done with before the start of school," Beard said.

Negotiating sessions are scheduled for Aug. 4 and Aug. 20.

Factfinding report:

www.dli.state.pa.us/landi/lib/landi/plrb/fact_finding/tuscarora.pdf

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