Greencastle teachers oppose salary freeze

June 18, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- The Greencastle-Antrim Education Association has said it will not support freezing teacher salaries next school year to help the school district cut costs and balance its budget.

The Greencastle-Antrim School Board sent a letter dated May 27 to all teachers and administrators asking them to consider freezing their salaries now and extending their contracts an additional year through 2013, Board President Dan Fisher said after Thursday night's board meeting.

Fisher said the board has been trying to find ways to cut costs in its 2009-10 budget, which the board approved June 4 with no increase in taxes.

He said sending the letter was the board's attempt to thin its largest line item -- salaries and benefits.

Education Association President John Root said the request came as a surprise to teachers, and since it came so late in the school year, it appeared as if an afterthought by the school board.


"We were blindsided by this," he said of the request. "Up to receiving the letter, we were aware of no concerns with the contract."

It is not normal to open a contract that was negotiated and accepted in good faith by both parties, he said.

The education association and the school board reached an agreement on the five-year contract in 2007. The contract included a minimum salary increase of 3.8 percent for each of the five years.

Education Association Vice President Alison McKissick said the members of the association were united against the offer.

"We are feeling the economic crunch like most people today," McKissick said. "For the vast majority of the association, it was a hard decision. There were a lot of personal and professional things going into that decision."

Due to the timing of the letter, Root said the offer was not discussed at an education association meeting, but rather among members in the halls of the schools.

Many viewed the board's letter as a request to break their contract, Root said.

"They were asking us to not honor our contract, to break it," he said. "You can't break a contract and then unbreak it later."

Every teacher would feel the effect of a broken contract, but those who would suffer the most were those preparing to retire in the coming years, he said.

A freeze of pay now would dramatically impact the retirement of many teachers.

"The way retirement works, we are not talking about them just losing a small increase in yearly salary, we are talking about them losing that money for the rest of their lives," he said.

Administrators also were asked to take a similar freeze in their contracts, Superintendent Greg Hoover said.

Because Fisher said the school board would only take action if both teachers and administrators were in favor of the offer, once the teachers voted it down, the administrators never formally considered it, Hoover said.

"I will say it was a question that needed to be asked," Hoover said.

The relationship between the education association and the school board remains strong, both Root and Fisher said.

While the association declined the school board's offer, it made its own offer to meet with members of the board and the administration to find other ways of cutting costs in the district, McKissick said.

Representatives from all parties have said they are eager to work together to fund the budget without raising taxes. Fisher said he hopes to bring everyone to the table as early as August.

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