No word yet on Line Mtn. strike
MANDATA - The Line Mountain community heads into Labor Day weekend still unsure if a teachers strike will be called ahead of Tuesday's scheduled opening day of the 2014-15 school year.
There was no word Friday as to whether there will be a strike, which Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) representative Mark McDade has all but promised in recent months because negotiations with the school board for a new contract continue to break down.
Teachers must provide a 48-hour notice of a strike, and that notice must be hand-delivered to the superintendent.
McDade said Friday the decision to give notice of a strike this weekend is up to Line Mountain Education Association (LMEA), but he doesn't believe it will happen.
He said a meeting is scheduled Wednesday for LMEA members to provide them with a bargaining update and where the association is in the process.
Ben Pratt, the district's negotiator, was hopeful late Friday morning that school would start on time.
"I don't expect to get a strike notice this weekend," he said.
When asked why he believes that, he said, it's "just a gut feeling."
Logistics may also be playing a part. If the notice wasn't presented at the school Friday, the union would theoretically have to deliver it to Superintendent Dave Campbell's house this weekend, at the latest by Sunday morning, or make some other arrangement to get it to him directly. The union would also have to notify its rank and file of the strike, and Pratt didn't expect that to happen on a holiday weekend.
Pratt said he contacted the union and the mediator Thursday looking for dates for the next negotiating sessions, a sign, he said, the district is "always" proactive toward reaching a settlement.
"We'll adjust as we have to," Pratt said about the potential for a strike, "but I just don't see it this weekend."
Campbell said that within the hour of a strike notice, the district's ALERT NOW service will notify parents. Extracurricular activities, including sports, are slated to continue regardless of the strike.
Go to www.linemountain.com, click on the administration tab and then "notices" to get the latest information.
A teacher who started at Line Mountain School District in 2011-12 for $32,838 a year would see his or her salary rise to $47,692 by the 2018-19 school year in a proposal the district has made to the union, Campbell said.
He doesn't consider that "guaranteed" $14,854 increase over seven years - an average of $2,122 a year - in the least "regressive" in today's economy. The average yearly increase for all teachers under the proposal is slightly higher at $2,170.
"I don't think that's regressive when it was $1,688 (the average increase) in the expired contract," Campbell said earlier this week.
But regressive is the term McDade has used in labeling the board's latest proposal. Campbell believes McDade has unfairly criticized the board through local media but has failed to substantiate his position.
"I'm upset because we may be going on strike because they're selling it as regressive bargaining. If I'm a teacher I'm upset, too," he said. "If that's what's pushing a strike, this 'regressive' talk needs to stop, and if he (McDade) truly believes it is (regressive), tell everyone why."
In discussing the salary numbers, McDade would only say Tuesday night by phone, after the contract stalemate was discussed at a school board meeting, that the exact numbers the teachers and board are negotiating "should not be for public consumption."
"I'll give the general statement that it's specifically less," McDade said of the latest salary offer. "That flies in the face of good-faith bargaining."
Wednesday, McDade again said he could not make the teachers' proposal public. He would say, "The salary they (the district) proposed prior to July 28 was greater than the one they proposed (after)."
"Mr. McDade may be using different numbers than us, I don't know," he said. "He's trying to justify his position, I'm trying to justify mine, but I know how we analyze our numbers and from my perspective, more money is being offered," he said.
McDade was again critical of the board's decision to post its proposal on the district website.
"The strategy of the school board is to cause disruption, distribute misinformation and to cause angst among the community rather than set dates and bargain in good faith to reach an agreement," said McDade. "They'd rather post a proposal online (than) negotiate with us as required by law."
Campbell noted the district can present its proposals, but it cannot make a comparison to what the union has offered.
Expired in 2011
The current contract expired at the end of the 2010-11 school year. Every employee in the district took a pay freeze for the 2011-12 school year, so the new contract for teachers would be retroactive to July 1, 2012, and extend to June 30, 2019.
Board members at Tuesday's meeting said they tried to incentivize signing a contract early by providing retroactive raises if the contract was signed by a certain point in the negotiation. If an agreement is not reached by Monday - which at this point is almost certain - the board wants a complete wage freeze for 2012-13; and if none is reached by Nov. 1, they'd want a wage freeze for 2013-14, too, meaning the raises would not be retroactive.
McDade said, "For them to say if we don't have an agreement by Sept. 1 then we're taking away your one retroactivity is counterproductive to the process and is tantamount to the threat, not an incentive."
Based on 2011-12 figures, Line Mountain teachers were paid an average of $48,259. The state average for a classroom teacher in 2011-12 was $62,019, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
On the 2011-12 pay freeze, Campbell said Line Mountain was the only district in the state to truly do that across the board. It points to the positives, which are many, in the district, he said.
"I'm uptight with the regressive comments because I don't think that gets anything done," he said Wednesday. Otherwise, he said teachers have continued to work hard.
"We're pretty lucky here," he said.
n The average annual increase for teachers under the latest offer from the Line Mountain School District over the length of a seven-year contract would be $2,170. In the district's August 2013 proposal it was $1,990, the board reports.
n Teachers worked 186 days under the old contract. The district proposal made last August was for 186 days, but the newest one is for 185 days.
n Work beyond the normal work day would be compensated at $25 per hour. It was $22 under the old contract.
n Beginning Jan. 1, all employees would be enrolled in the Highmark Health Savings Account with a $1,750 single, $3,500 family deductible option. The district would agree to supply $1,750 for single and $3,500 for family into a Health Savings Account (HSA) for each enrolled employee. In the 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, the district will deposit $1,000 into the employees' HSA for single coverage and $2,000 for family. Employees may obtain an additional $500 into their accounts for participating in the wellness program, and they could be eligible for another $500 for their spouses.
n The prescription plan will be based on co-pays on prescriptions as follows: Generic, $8; brand, $35; brand non-form, $50. These co-pays will begin once the employee has met the total deductible.
n Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, all employees would pay 10 percent of the insurance premium spread out equally over the employees' pay.
n In addition to increases for master's 15, 30 and 45 (credits earned), the district's proposal now includes a master's 60, or doctorate step that adds $1,000 annually to the salary of a teacher who has earned a doctorate.