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Waynesboro school board, teachers union hold impromptu contract talks

February 21, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Jay Trech, left, a teacher at Hooverville Elementary School, and other Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District teachers hold signs Tuesday night during a rally outside the school district's administration building. Waynesboro's teachers have worked without a contract for 601 days.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — The Waynesboro Area School Board and its teachers union held an impromptu contract negotiations session Tuesday, catching even those involved by surprise.

The two sides have been locked in an ongoing contract impasse. They last met Dec. 12, 2011, and no new bargaining sessions were scheduled.

At the end of the regularly scheduled school board meeting, board member Leland Lemley asked the union’s chief negotiator if they wanted to meet. They agreed to sit down to review their existing proposals. The meeting had not started as of Tuesday at 10 p.m.

Teachers packed the school board meeting, the 601st day since their last contract expired. The teachers, some of whom were holding signs, lined the sidewalks outside the district’s administration building.

School board member Chris Lind suggested the teachers should instead use the rallying time to develop a new proposal. He said public displays do nothing to change the district’s financial situation.

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Since 2009, the Waynesboro Area School Board has contended with decreased local revenue, higher health insurance costs, increased contributions to the state pension fund, and diminished state and federal revenue, Lind said.

“This situation is not just a Waynesboro issue,” he said. “School boards across Pennsylvania are facing the issues.”

In a previous interview, the school board’s labor attorney said it would not meet at the bargaining table until one or both sides had a new proposal. Negotiations hinge on salaries and benefits.

About 278 teachers are represented by the Waynesboro Area Education Association (WAEA) union.

Mike Engle, WAEA’s chief negotiator, initially proposed the two sides meet without lawyers for a more relaxed conversation.

“We ask the board to return to the table to resume bargaining,” he said. “We all need to give up some sacred cows to get this done.”

Teachers who participated in the rally said they are frustrated by the impasse.

“It feels like it’s all about money, and it’s not about the value of education,” said Mike Bercaw, a guidance counselor at Waynesboro Area Middle School.

Bercaw said he fears an “us versus them” mentality has developed.

“I don’t feel like we’re working toward the same goals,” he said.

“It’s having a residual, negative effect. I’d rather focus on the classroom and schools,” said Barry Donohoe, a social studies teacher at the middle school.

Increased class sizes mean teachers cannot focus as easily on individual students’ needs, Donohoe said.

While he worries about fellow staff members and feels devalued, Donohoe said negotiations are not affecting student learning. He said some community members tell him they are “bewildered” by a lack of overall community support for education.

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