MOUNT CARMEL - The Mount Carmel Area Education Association (MCAEA) announced this weekend it is establishing a "working to the rule" practice to demonstrate its frustration with the status of contract negotiations with the school board.

Starting today, the 113 teachers in the union will only perform their duties as outlined by the collective bargaining agreement, but will not do any work voluntarily beyond the terms and conditions of the contract.

"We are very frustrated with the current state of contract negotiations with the school board," MCAEA President and teacher Joe Varano said. "We are among the lowest-paid teachers in the entire state of Pennsylvania. We are deeply committed to the success of every student, but we feel that the board does not want to invest in classroom priorities, including its teachers."

The union has been working under an expired contract since June 2012. The average teacher salary in the district in 2011-12 was $43,834, ranking Mount Carmel Area 489th out of 500 Pennsylvania school districts.

The move, which Line Mountain Education Association also adopted as of Oct. 1, follows the picketing from Mount Carmel teachers at a negotiation session Sept. 18 and a school board meeting Sept. 19.

Varano said the main purpose of the strategy is to show the school board the "enormous amount of volunteer work conducted for the benefit of the students by teachers and professional staff. For these efforts, which are performed both before and after the contracted workday and on weekends, the teachers receive no compensation, not that any is expected."

School board President Donna James called the move "discouraging and frustrating."

"It's not that we don't want to give them any money. We are trying, but it has to be fair and reasonable for the taxpayers," she said. "We like our teachers, and they're some of the most qualified in the area. We want them to stay. We don't want any of this rift or divide going on."

School board members have said the district is facing escalating retirement and heath care costs and is not as financially well-off as the union believes.

Plus, the school board accepted the report of a Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board fact finder in May, but the union rejected it, she said.

The board also took offensive to the teachers turning their backs on the school board members as they left the last school board meeting Sept. 19, she said.

While she recognizes their shirts had the word "together" on their backs, that's not the impression the teachers gave to the public.

"It was uncalled for," she said.

What it means

Working to the rule means elementary teachers will work 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and middle and high school teachers will work 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

Any work not identified in the contract will not be performed, which includes after-school tutoring, chaperoning school events, meeting parents outside contractual meetings, committees or bus duty, among other duties.

Grading tests, preparing for lessons and entering grades will still be done even if it's not done during the school day, Varano noted.

"You have to do what it takes to do your job properly. All that stuff will still get gone. You have to do your job and you have to do it well," he said.

During the school day, students will continue to receive the high-quality professional attention and education they and the community have come to expect, he said.

James said the administration and school board will be meeting this week to determine the effects of the union's new policy.