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Chambersburg teachers association ratifies two-year contract

April 06, 2011|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — One week after the Chambersburg Area School Board ratified a tentative two-year agreement, Chambersburg teachers followed suit Wednesday night by also approving the deal.

In the settlement, both sides agreed that teachers would get no salary increases for 2010-11 and a 3 percent raise in 2011-12, which equates to $1,643 per teacher in the second year, according to a school district news release.

No step schedule wage increases are in the deal.

The district arrived at that figure by averaging all teacher salaries, and then applying the 3 percent wage increase, board members said.

As is customary with union votes, Dave Snyder, president of the Chambersburg Area Education Association, would not release the final count, but did say that it was "nowhere near unanimous."

"This was not one of those no-brainer decisions," he said. "The zero in the first year was not acceptable to a lot of people, so it was not anywhere near being unanimous. There were a lot of concerns, particularly about that part of it."

Teachers will pay 8 percent, an increase of 1 percent, of the cost of their health care plans for the remainder of the 2010-11 school year before contributions bump up to 9 percent in 2011-12, the news release said.

Several members of the school board's negotiating team announced the details of the deal at a small news conference inside the district's administration building Wednesday night.

"We're relieved and very pleased because it allows the administration, the board and the teachers to focus now on what we're here for, and that's educating the kids and not trying to work out the contract," board member Stanley Helman said.

"It ultimately benefits the students," said board member Renee Sharpe, adding that she "applauds the teachers for taking a zero increase" for the current year in the face of the economic climate.

"It speaks highly of our professionals that they were willing to step to the plate and accept a zero," Helman said.

All administrators and CASD bus drivers took a zero percent increase for the current year. Other employees, represented by AFSCME, including custodial and maintenance staff, also agreed to take a reduction in their contracted pay, the news release said.

Before this deal was made, Chambersburg teachers had been working under a four-year contract that expired June 30, 2010. Teachers received a 4.5 percent wage increase each year of that deal.

Uncertain economic times played into the decision to take a zero percent increase during the current year and a shorter deal would allow for changes in just two years, board members said.

"In these economic times, no one can predict next year, much less four years from now," board member Anne Boryan said Wednesday night. "We felt it was to both sides' advantage that we not be locked into something that wouldn't be good to the teachers three years from now or something that we wouldn't be able to afford three years from now."

Both sides can take a collective sigh of relief that the 15-month process is over, at least for now. The new deal will expire on June 30, 2012, and the negotiation process is expected to begin again this fall, board members said.

District officials said no money was budgeted in the current year for teachers' wage increases.

"Whether there is hostility toward the administration and the board, to be honest with you, there is much concern about the fact that this had to go 15 months," Snyder said. "It's hard to think that it had to be that way."

Through it all, concerned taxpayers read the newspaper articles, heard the rumors and unfairly judged the teachers for seeking reasonable wages for their services to the district, Helman said.

"I think a lot of the negativity toward our teachers was unfair," he said. "Because of the negotiating process and a lot of it (not being) out in public, people were drawing conclusions from what little information that they had and were criticizing. I think this contract shows a lot of that criticism was unfair."

Sharpe, who will not be seeking re-election in the upcoming elections, said she hopes the process next time around will be more "up front" and "realistic as far as initial offers."

"It would be my hope that we don't have to play the negotiating game, where you come in really far apart — and then it takes months and months to dwindle that down," she said. "It would be really nice this time to be able to come in with realistic expectations on both sides to work out a contract that didn't have all the political machinations."

Snyder said he felt the union was reasonable in its expectations throughout, but often-changing representatives on the district's negotiation team made it somewhat difficult to find a compromise.

"When you negotiate you need to have some consistency," Snyder said. "There were times when we would meet and all of a sudden things changed, and that was because there were new people on their side."

"I've done a lot of these negotiations and this one kind of went the way it normally does, in a lot of ways," he said.

The contract has no provisions for fair share, which requires employees to pay for any organizational memberships as a condition of employment, and it includes an increase in planning time for elementary teachers.

There is also no change in issues such as longevity pay, tuition reimbursement, length of the work year or work day.

The new contract will apply to about 560 professional employees in the district, which make up the CAEA bargaining unit, Snyder said.

Back in January, CAEA leadership authorized a strike, but never acted on it.

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