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Tuscarora teachers rally for positive outcome to contract talks

August 21, 2008|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- They want a fair salary. They want competitive benefits. They want to teach the children of the Mercersburg area without the shadow of a strike in the back of their minds.

And on Wednesday they wanted to show the Tuscarora School District that when it comes to a new contract, they, the teachers of the Tuscarora Education Association, stand unified behind their union negotiators.

"We hold balloons to show our positive support for our negotiations team," said Sheryl Allison, a science teacher at James Buchanan High School. "We come with a positive attitude that both sides can sit down and hopefully settle this tonight."

The Education Association has been bargaining with the Tuscarora School Board for a four-year contract since January, Allison said.

The negotiating session on Wednesday was the last scheduled session for the contract.

Marcia Bender, regional field director of the Pennsylvania Education Association, said both sides left the table Aug. 4 with proposals to consider.

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Holding a balloon to show her support for the teachers Wednesday evening, she said there is a good chance that a positive outcome would be reached that night.

Carl Beard, attorney and spokesman for the school board, said before the meeting that the two biggest sticking points remain salaries and contributions to medical insurance.

Beard said that the teachers have passed up what he called a "fairly handsome" fact-finding study by William F. Caldwell.

"There is more money on the table this year than the last round of negotiations," Beard said. "In fact, the fact finder recommended decreasing benefit contributions."

While Beard said he believes Tuscarora has always offered competitive salaries, the teachers said that competitive edge falls every year.

Elementary Learning Support Teacher Ellen Heckman has seen many of her colleagues leave the school district for higher-paying jobs next door.

"I have been here long enough to see the district fall in the standings and get lower and lower on the pay and benefit scale in this county," she said.

Heckman, who said she was on the negotiating team for the education association in the 1980s, said the goal at the bargaining table is to find a win-win situation for both sides.

"I hope we can do this tonight and at least before we are back to school on Sept. 2," she said.

Mercersburg Academy Teacher Jack Hawbaker said the teachers have been criticized as not standing as one behind the Tuscarora Education Association in this round of negotiations.

Hawbaker, whose wife teaches in the district, said the rally will show that not only are the teachers working together on this, but they all care about the district and want a fair contract.

"No one likes the idea of a strike," he said. "We are here because we want nothing more than to be in the classroom teaching on Sept. 2 with this (contract) settled."

Allison estimated that about 120 people came to rally in support of the negotiations.

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