Teachers picket LMSB meeting
MANDATA - Stalled contract negotiations brought out approximately 100 Line Mountain teachers and supporters to the Line Mountain Middle/High School campus Tuesday night.
Armed with signs with varying messages, the picketers gathered at the corner of the school at 5:45 p.m. to catch the attention of any of the nine board members driving into either of the district's two parking lots before the 6:30 p.m. public meeting.
Moments before a seemingly rushed 8-minute board meeting, Line Mountain Education Association President Mark Shearer, Pennsylvania State Education Association representative Mark McDade and several school board presidents from neighboring districts addressed the crowd.
Shearer told the teachers he was there to "affect change, to get good, deserving salaries for hard-working people, no matter what millionaire pheasant farmer people might say," referencing school board President Troy Laudenslager's family business, Mahantongo Game Farms in Dalmatia.
McDade "is teaching us how to stand up for ourselves and how to take it the people, not the board, but to the community and students," Shearer said. "This is what we do. We come together."
Teachers have been working on an expired contract since June 2012. That one-year pact was an extension of a five-year contract that ended June 30, 2011, and guaranteed teachers a 3-percent raise each year.
With the threat of a strike looming, the teachers have also 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 the contracted 7 1/2 hours.
School board meetings are normally held in the cafeteria, but Tuesday's was moved to the library, which is smaller.
Teachers packed the library a few minutes after 6:30 p.m., when the board members were nearly finished with their meeting. After approving the agenda items, the board opened up the floor for public comment, of which there were none. They adjourned the meeting at 6:38 p.m.
As part of the public agenda, the board provided copies of teacher salary schedules and their raises over the years to anyone attending the meeting.
The only discussion of board agenda items occurred when David Scott Bartholomew questioned the approval of coaches and advisors for the 2014-15 school year.
"It doesn't make sense to me," he said, noting the teachers are working to the rule and refuse to tutor students but they're willing to work as advisors and coaches.
The district has to hire outside employees to provide after-school tutoring for the students, he said.
'Hew needz techer?'
Following the meaning, Laudenslager said he had nothing new to say, but he was glad to see the teachers at the meeting.
As board president, Laudenslager has been highly critical of the union's actions, accusing them of playing games during negotiations.
But the teachers and their supporters see it a different way.
Their signs had messaged that included: "You can't put students first if you put teachers last," "It's time... fair contract now" and "Hew needz techer? Git tha pnt?"
McDade said the teachers not only deserve a professional contract, but they deserve to be treated professionally as well.
"This school board would rather bargain in public than directly with the teachers," he said. "The board has offered nothing to the process other than disrespect and causing angst to the parents and students."
The two sides tell two stories: The district says it's waiting for the teachers to respond to the latest offer, while the teachers claim they haven't been given a latest offer. The district says the teachers walked out of a Jan. 23 negotiation meeting after an hour and never came face-to-face with the board's negotiation team, and the teachers say they waited three hours and 13 minutes before walking out. The district officials say they're willing to meet whenever the teachers want, but the teachers say the board refuses to schedule sessions.
The district is spreading "misinformation and we're here to call them out on it," McDade said.
It's "sideshow games," he added.
"They have high-jacked the positive relationship the teachers have built with the public," McDade said.
Teachers from Danville Area, Warrior Run, Mid-West, Selinsgrove Area, Shamokin Area and Shikellamy were also in attendance to show support for Line Mountain teachers.
Danville Area Education Association President Dave Fortunato, whose fellow teachers are on their second year without a contract settlement, told the crowd three years without a raise is "ridiculous."
"There's no reason for the jobs we do, the noble jobs we do, that we should be standing by and getting kicked in the teeth, not getting raises and not being treated fairly," he said.
Teachers must keep fighting and working together, he said. "People will realize we're not going to put up with it anymore," Fortunato said.
The next negotiation meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, April 22.