Striking Tuscarora teachers want to negotiate now

September 05, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- Using umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun as temperatures topped 90 degrees, teachers in the Tuscarora School District continued to carry signs on their picket lines in front of four school buildings on Thursday.

The Tuscarora Education Association strike, which started Tuesday, was expected to continue today, meaning all academic classes remain canceled.

Contract negotiating teams from the school board and faculty union are scheduled to meet again Thursday, Sept. 11. An earlier meeting might be held Sunday afternoon, said Marcia Bender, a union spokeswoman.

"We want to negotiate," said Karen Hawbaker, a teacher at Mercersburg Elementary School. "We don't want to wait until the 11th."

"We want negotiations this weekend, immediately," said Kristin Chilcote, who teaches at James Buchanan Middle School. "We're available anytime."

Bender, a representative of the Pennsylvania Education Association, said she received a fax Thursday from the state education department. In it, she was informed that Sept. 30 would be the last day that teachers legally can strike. State law requires that districts provide 180 days of instruction by June 15.


If the strike were to continue to Sept. 30, both sides would be sent before a three-person arbitration panel.

At issue are salary increases and contributions to medical insurance premiums.

A fact-finder recommended salary increases of 4.2 percent to 4.4 percent each year of the four-year contract. In August's round of bargaining, the union says it was asking for 4.5 percent, while the school board's solicitor said his side proposed increases from 3.75 percent to 4.3 percent.

Teachers have said they felt misled concerning their contribution to insurance premiums. They started contributing to their health care for the first time during the last contract based on what they had been told regarding increases in premiums. They say they later were told the increase wouldn't be as much as anticipated.

Teachers contributed between $520 and $1,534 for health insurance in 2007-08 depending on the employee's number of dependents, according to documents provided by the district.

Both sides preliminarily have agreed to convert the teachers' contribution to a percentage of the premiums, rather than a set dollar amount.

Picketing teachers said they received morale boosts this week from positive feedback, some of which came as people delivered frozen flavored ice and ice cream treats.

"They support us," said Sheryl Allison, who teaches at James Buchanan High School. "They appreciate what we do for their children."

Tuesday would have been the first day of school for the 2008-09 academic year in the Tuscarora School District, which encompasses the Borough of Mercersburg and surrounding townships.

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