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Adminstrators in two Pa. school districts make preparations for possible strikes

January 13, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — With teacher strikes possible in two Franklin County, Pa., school districts, administrators are making preparations for how to reschedule those days of instruction.

Teacher unions in both Chambersburg Area School District and Waynesboro Area School District took votes that authorize a strike depending on the outcomes of contract negotiations.

Waynesboro Area Education Association President Jessica Bryan said teachers in her district won't strike until they see what happens at a Jan. 26 bargaining session.

"I'm not sure what to think about it yet," Bryan said of the session. "We're going to it with an open mind. We always have."

Dave Snyder, president of the Chambersburg Area Education Association, said his union membership, with its 579 teachers, will meet Jan. 19 to decide its next course of action, including the possibility of a strike.

"We are looking at what our possible reactions can be, and we will be talking to our general membership next week," Snyder said in an interview Monday.

In Pennsylvania, the state education department informs teachers unions how many days they can legally strike. The information is largely based on ensuring students receive 180 days of instructions.

"We look at the calendar and determine a date by which 180 days must be met," said Steven Weitzman, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Instruction must be completed by June 15 or June 30 depending on some other factors, Weitzman said.

Waynesboro Area School District Superintendent James Robertson said he would receive at least 48 hours notice from teachers of a pending strike. He promised to give parents as much notice as possible.

"We have School Messenger, which is an automated telephone system. We'd use the (announcement) outlets we'd use for a snow delay," Robertson said.

According to Robertson, factors that would need to be considered by administrators and the school board are transportation and cafeteria services for parochial students as well as those attending the Franklin County Career and Technology Center and Franklin Learning Center.

"Kids being educated in other facilities would still need to be transported," he said.

In the past two sessions of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, state Rep. Todd Rock, R-Franklin, introduced "strike-free education" legislation. He said one survey found 70 percent of those polled support the bill, which stayed stuck in committee in other years.

"Every time there's a strike in a district we get flooded with e-mails and calls," Rock said.

After fact-finding and arbitration, the bill would require both sides to meet four times a month and once every six weeks in public. Rock, a former Waynesboro Area School Board member and masonry teacher, said on his website children have a right to an uninterrupted education, so strikes should not be permitted.

The current change in leadership in the state capital from a Democrat to Republican governor should help the bill when it is introduced this year, Rock said.

"I think it actually has a shot at this point," he said.

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