Tempers flare, comments cut off by school board

January 11, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — The Waynesboro Area School Board meeting Tuesday had a contentious start, with the board cutting off public comment and angering teachers and their supporters pushing for resolution to contract negotiations.

Seven people offered comments in the first 20 minutes. All asked for "a fair contract" and quick conclusion to negotiations.

"I think the teachers do an excellent job and should be treated fairly," said Brian Toro, who has three children enrolled at Fairview Elementary School.

Board President Edward Wilson said he wanted to end the comment period because of repetitive remarks and falling snow.

"We understand what you're saying, and we take it to heart," he said.

Parent Laura Rush started to offer comment after Wilson said topics other than teacher contract negotiations would be allowed. When she began to mention the contract, Wilson cut her off.

"You came up here under false pretenses," Wilson said.

Negotiations are continuing between the school board and Waynesboro Area Education Association. The teachers took a vote authorizing a strike, but WAEA President Jessica Bryan said no decision on striking will be made until after the next bargaining session — on Jan. 26.

Bryan said 10 teachers and nine parents prepared remarks of about 45 seconds each for the meeting. She said she assumed they'd be afforded 30 minutes total because of typical board practice.

Board member Chris Lind said any board member can make a motion to end the public comment period.

No motion was made or vote taken.

In attendance at the meeting were board members Wilson, Lind, Billie Finn, Bonnie Bachtell and Leland Lemley. Lemley was not present for the public comment period.

Board members Firmadge Crutchfield and Sherry Cline participated in the meeting by speaker phone.

Board members K. Marilyn Smith and Pat Heefner were absent.

Early in the meeting, Lind told the teachers' union the board would not negotiate in public.

"We're trying to proceed with something that is fair and equitable for the teachers and taxpayers," Lind said.

Later, Lemley said the fact-finding recommendations supported by WAEA would cost the district $1.9 million over three years for Social Security, retirement, workers' compensation and salary increases. He said that figure does not include anticipated increases in medical premiums.

"It'd take 11 mills (of new property taxes) just to fund that proposal," Lemley said.

Bryan reminded Lemley of Lind's comment about not negotiating in public.

"You brought up negotiations and the contract," she said.

"How you interpret it is up to you, Jess," Lemley said, saying his comments pertained to budget matters.

"I'd just suggest we stay away from this topic," Bryan responded.

In regards to the budget discussion, the board decided to delay its vote on a resolution regarding the 2011-12 Act 1 tax index. That index, set by the state, would limit a property tax increase to 1.8 percent if accepted by the board. Otherwise, the board would have to use a different budget timeline and seek exemptions.

Board members said they don't want to be bound by the index without more budget information.

Lemley said he's heard the Pennsylvania legislature might return public school funding to 2009 levels, plus various stimulus dollars will be expiring.

"That's a $1.7 million loss of revenue," he said.

Bryan, in an interview outside the meeting, said the board is pushing for no retroactive salary increases once a contract is signed.

"I know their strategy is to sit and wait us out," she said.

The previous contract expired at the end of the 2009-10 school year. It was a three-year contract with a one-year extension.

The meeting was held in the gym at Fairview Elementary School. The board plans to meet at various schools in coming weeks.

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