Teacher, board rift continues to widen at Line Mountain
MANDATA - The rift between Line Mountain School Board and the district's teachers continues to widen following statements made Tuesday, when each group accused the other of misleading the public and bargaining in bad faith.
Meanwhile, the school district released each teacher's current salary on its website, what they would make at the end of the district's proposed contract and what teachers are proposing for their salary schedule. District officials also plan to release more of the union's proposal today.
Teachers have been working on an expired contract since June 2012, which was a one-year extension of a five-year contract that ended June 30, 2011, that guaranteed educators a 3-percent raise each year.
In a statement released by Pennsylvania State Education Association, representative Mark McDade said the union is committed to settling a fair and equitable contract, but the school board continues to ignore state labor laws and bargain in the public eye.
"The school board had not bargained with or provided LMEA (Line Mountain Education Association) with a contract proposal in months. Instead, they practiced an unlawful tactic called "surface bargaining" where they schedule and attend meetings only for sake of it. The school board has no intention of bargaining in good faith," McDade said.
The district and the union met Jan. 23 for a contract negotiating meeting, the first in three months, but no progress was made.
The two negotiation teams never came face to face as planned that night, board President Troy Laudenslager said.
Solicitor Rich Roberts acted as a liaison between two rooms for approximately an hour, and provided the teachers with a new details in the district's proposal, but the teachers' negotiation team left without warning and failed to reschedule a meeting, he said.
"We're puzzled by their response," Laudenslager said.
The district's negotiation team consists of directors Laudenslager, Lamont Masser, David Scott Bartholomew and Lauren Hackenburg.
Response to proposal
The district also has yet to receive a complete response to the district's Aug. 21 proposal, which was also released to the public Oct. 7. (See sidebar for summary)
Asked if the move to continue releasing sensitive information was wise, Laudenslager said the district was only responding to the teachers claiming the school board was stalling and not negotiating in good faith.
"It's to persuade the public as to what the facts are. We have to let people know that they're unwilling to bargain and meet. They just want to offer a false perception to the public," he said.
Shearer said the union would be willing to work with the district in exploring more savings and settling a contract that is equitable to everyone "if the school board would meet with us more often to negotiate."
However, Laudenslager said, "They picked all the dates. They're in the driver's seat. We told them we could meet whenever they schedule meetings."
What's on the table
Under the district's proposal, the lowest paid teacher at $32,838 would make $42,378 by 2016-17 and the highest paid teacher at $63,582 would make $65,182. Under the teachers' proposal, the lowest paid teacher would make $47,757 by 2016-17 and the highest paid teacher would made $74,463.
In the district's statement online, it said teachers previously negotiated to get teachers to the maximum career salary as fast as possible in order to have money up front to pay off school loans.
"In return, they would not ask for as much money after they got to the maximum career salary. As you can see in the proposals, the LMEA is no longer following that rational," said the district.
Due to dramatically increasing costs in teacher benefit packages, the district argues it put forth a reasonable offer compared to the "extreme demands" of the union.
Even if no teacher would get a raise in the first three years of the contract, the District would still have to come up with an additional $1,186,240 to contribute to their retirement, the district said.
"Unfortunately, the retirement contribution rate is projected to escalate to 32.08 percent in the upcoming years. This is a major financial issue for the district. Funds typically paid directly to teachers for salary increases are being taken by the state to ensure the teachers' pension plans are maintained," said the district.
A PPO Highmark Blue Shield plan is offered to teachers with a $100/$200 deductible. and they also have prescription drug, dental and vision plans. The family plan costs $17,622.54 of which a teacher would contribute $90 per month.
Estimated increases for this coming 2014-15 year are approximately 21 percent; this would be another $3,700.73 per teacher with a family health insurance plan.
The district said based on these numbers and assuming no raises occur for any teachers in 2014-2015, the district will be expected to come up with an average increase over this year of $2,165 per employee for pensions and another $3,700 for a family health insurance plan, which is a total average increase of $5,865 per employee with a family health insurance plan.
"The district might be able to negotiate a smaller increase in health insurance premiums. These increases, combined with the demands of the LMEA would be devastating to the district and you as taxpayers," the district said.
"They ask for the universe and expect the world," Laudenslager said.
McDade said the majority of contracts are settled through amicable and respectful negotiations in which several proposals are exchanged and both sides listen to others' needs before finding middle ground.
"The students, parents and taxpayers derive to be represented by a school board who respects their teachers and the law, not hold them in contempt," he said.
In the statement, LMEA President Mark Shearer, a teacher, said it's unfortunate that some school board members have been "playing politics" by putting out misinformation and bad facts to the general public.
"Our teachers do pay into health care, we have taken a salary freeze, and we have always contributed into our pension unlike the state and school districts who did not contribute into the pension system for almost thirteen-years, which is causing the pension spikes," he said.
Laudenslager said the district has always contributed to pension, and the contributions have increased in recent years.
'To the rule'
The teachers there have been working to the rule since Sept. 30 to draw attention to the stalled contract negotiations. They will not volunteer their time for duties not described in their contract and will only work during contracted 7 1/2 hours.
This currently includes the after school tutoring program for which they would be paid an additional $22 per hour. Based on this decision by the LMEA and to ensure struggling students get the help they need, the school board voted to hire Melanie Fowler, Jennifer Kerstetter and Adam Menko at $22 an hour for after-school tutoring and detention at the school board meeting Tuesday night.
Shearer said the district is academically successful and everyone needs to be held accountable for student success. "That is why we are asking the school board to invest in classroom priorities that help our students pave their way for bright futures," he said.