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Grievance statement draws strong reactions from teachers, board

August 15, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • The information in this chart was compiled by Waynesboro Superintendent James Robertson and presented at the Waynesboro Area School Board meeting Monday night.
The information in this chart was compiled by Waynesboro Superintendent James Robertson and presented at the Waynesboro Area School Board meeting Monday night.

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — A statement read Monday by the president of the Waynesboro Area School Board generated strong reactions from already polarized board members and teachers.

Board President Ed Wilson read a three-page statement regarding grievances filed by the teachers' union and decided by an arbitrator. He said he wants taxpayers to know how much the grievances cost them.

"There's a lot of this that goes on that the public isn't aware of. ... We're trying to save money any way we can," he said.

"My personal concern is the public has a right to know some of the cat-and-mouse games that go on," board member Sherry Cline said.

Meanwhile, representatives of the union, the Waynesboro Area Education Association, said they follow the chain of command, starting with the building principal, when addressing issues. They said filing grievances is a last resort.

"We've offered solutions, and they wouldn't accept it," said Jessica Bryan, WAEA president.

"There are opportunities to find solutions together," said Angie Cales, WAEA vice president.

School board members Bonnie Bachtell, Pat Heefner and K. Marilyn Smith often disagree with the board's majority. Monday's specially scheduled meeting and the statement highlighted those differences.

The three women said they worry about how Monday's meeting further strained the board's relationship with district teachers.

"You have to build bridges," Bachtell said.

"(Instead) We're tearing them down," Smith said of those bridges.

"It was the purpose of this evening to further strain things," Heefner said.

Since early 2010, the school board and teachers union have been negotiating a contract to replace the one that expired at the end of 2009-10. Representatives of both sides have said they've made no progress in recent bargaining sessions.

When asked how he thought the statement would affect the atmosphere at the bargaining table, Wilson said, "We'll see."

School board member Billie Finn recently joined the board's negotiating team.

"We're still very far apart," she said.

Bryan echoed that sentiment when asked about the relationship between the board and union.

"I'm not sure how much further apart we can get," Bryan said.

Monday's statement was prepared by the board's arbitration attorney, Michael Levin, and an accompanying document about costs by Superintendent James Robertson.

The statement begins with a reference to "frivolous and costly grievances," then addresses grievances about eliminated stipends, after-school meetings, dental and vision insurance for retirees, and teachers' admission costs to sporting events.

Robertson's figures indicate that, combined, the matters cost the district $8,696, not including attorney fees. Bryan and Cales said WAEA has its own, similar costs for arbitration.

Bryan said the grievances are filed to preserve provisions of the teachers' contract.

"When you're in a union and you're under contract ... any contract is a legal document, and we're obligated to protect that contract," she said.

Issues are first addressed with the building principals and superintendent, who consults with the school board, Bryan said.

Board member Leland Lemley said settling the disputes is necessary because they set a precedent for how things are done in the future.

The school board's regularly scheduled meeting will be at 7 p.m. today at the administrative building on Clayton Avenue.

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