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No new talks set on Waynesboro teachers contract impasse

January 29, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — The Waynesboro Area School District and its teachers’ union are entering their third year of contract negotiations, although neither side has plans to meet at the bargaining table soon.

The two sides are at an impasse, which hinges on salaries and benefits. The negotiating teams last met Dec. 12, 2011, and no new bargaining sessions are scheduled.

The last teachers’ contract ran from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2009, and had a one-year extension that expired June 30, 2010. Negotiations for a new contract started in early 2010.

“Compromise takes two. ... We have moved considerably in our offers. They have barely budged,” said Mike Engle, chief negotiator for Waynesboro Area Education Association, the teachers’ union.

Labor attorney Richard Galtman, the school board’s lead negotiator, said the board is making realistic decisions in the slumped economy.

“We’re not posturing. The district’s proposal is based on what we need to do,” he said.

Previous contract
According to past contract documents, teachers received a 4.5 percent salary increase inclusive of step movement in 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09. The same increase was applied in 2009-10.

Teachers’ salaries are based on a chart with “steps” and “columns.” The steps and columns are negotiable, but they’re essentially based on number of years teaching (steps) and level of education from bachelor’s degree to doctorate (columns).

Since Waynesboro does not have a current contract, the district and teachers are working under what was in place for 2009-10. They are at the same level of pay and benefits as that year, which had a starting salary of $42,511 on the scale.

According to copies obtained by The Herald-Mail, the 2009-10 contract extension called for teachers to have four days of paid leave for personal reasons, with unused personal days paid at the rate of $100 per day through investments, not cash.

In the extension, the school district agrees to pay the full cost of premiums for each employee. (A chart in the extension depicts the insurance rates for spouses and dependents.)

Latest negotiations between the teachers and school board call for the teachers to pay percentages of their premiums.

In the previous contract and extension, the district set aside money for teachers’ educational advancement. Those total dollars range from $163,300 to $176,600 in the contract and its extension.

The contract establishes a work year of 189 days and a workday of 7 1/2 hours inclusive of a 30-minute, uninterrupted lunch.

“The time for the additional activities shall be kept within reasonable limits,” the contract states.

In addition to salaries and benefits, the previous contract includes paid sabbatical, a day for “emergency leave,” child rearing without pay, a prep period of 40 to 45 minutes, one day of professional absence, retirement or death pay, and a grievances policy.

A ‘labor dispute’
“Previous boards valued their teachers and wanted to reach a fair middle ground. ... This board does not value their teachers or value maintaining quality public education,” Engle wrote in an email.

Galtman said that assertion is untrue.

“It has nothing to do with education. It’s a labor dispute,” he said.

In previous years, the district had a higher tax collection rate, as well as stable local and state revenue streams, Galtman said. It is now restricted by caps on property tax increases and increased contributions to a state retirement system, he said.

Employees want increases comparable to other years, “but the norm isn’t the same as previous years,” he said.

Galtman said the school board wants to tie any pay increase to savings realized through changes to health insurance offerings. He said the school board will not include retroactive pay in any of its proposals.

“You don’t pay for a salary increase one time, you pay for it ongoing,” Galtman said.

What now?
What are the options as the impasse continues?

Engle said the teachers can “maintain the status quo” out of concerns about the school board’s last proposal, which he said would “mean we would actually take home less than what we do now.” The teachers could strike or call for another round of fact-finding.

Engle declined to elaborate on the possibility of teachers striking. They would be required under state law to give the superintendent 48 hours notice prior to a strike.

Galtman said it is time for the school board to start hammering out its 2012-13 budget. Decisions made in that process will be ones over which the district does not have a duty to bargain.

Neither party appears to be making moves toward binding arbitration.

“To put (decisions) in the hands of an arbitrator would be ceding the authority the voters put in the hands of the board. It’d put it with a person with no interests in the school district, ... and the arbitrator will not be answerable to the public,” Galtman said.

“For arbitration, the board and the association would both have to agree to utilize that process. The board ignored a (fact-finder’s) opinion last time, and they have not shown any willingness to compromise,” Engle wrote.

One thing on which Galtman and Engle agree is that a stable school district affects a community’s economy.

“The first thing you ask your Realtor is, ‘What are the taxes like, and how is the school district?,’ not necessarily in that order,” Galtman said.

“One of the first things home buyers ask when moving to an area is, ‘What are the schools like?’ These constant headlines (about a contract dispute) will cause new home buyers to look in other districts, even though we have the lowest tax rate in the county, except Fannett-Metal,” Engle said.

In the past, people chose to live in Waynesboro due to the quality and direction of its school system, he said.

The public should care about bargaining because it affects quality of life and whether the district is fair to employees and taxpayers, and because lines get drawn, Galtman said.

Students, meanwhile, will remain unaware of the issues because everyone involved is acting with professionalism, Galtman said.

“It has nothing to do with what goes on in a classroom,” he said.

No new negotiating sessions have been scheduled.

“We will not have a session scheduled unless one party or the other has a new proposal to discuss. We’ll meet when there is something to talk about,” Galtman said.

“The teachers recognize that these are tough economic times, which is why we have already made considerable concessions,” Engle said. “In the past bargaining sessions, we feel the board has not responded with the same spirit of compromise, and now refuses to even meet with us. We are ready and willing to return to the table to reach a fair and equitable contract.”

Negotiating teams
Waynesboro Area Education Association
Mike Engle, high school science teacher
Jessica Bryan, middle school learning support teacher
Angie Cales, Fairview Elementary School teacher
Marcia Bender, Pennsylvania State Education Association representative

Waynesboro Area School Board
Leland Lemley, school board member
Billie Finn, school board member
Chris Lind, school board member
James Robertson, district superintendent
Robert Walker, district business administrator
Richard Galtman, labor attorney

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