'Working to the Rule' is working at MCA
MOUNT CARMEL - Day-to-day operations of the Mount Carmel Area schools have been running smoothly since the teachers implemented a new policy of "Working to the Rule" last week, said Superintendent Bernard Stellar Tuesday.
But he said there is tension.
"We (administrators) have to think now if something is contractual or not," he said. "For the most part, it's been a cooperative situation."
Last week, the Mount Carmel Area Education Association (MCAEA) announced the 113 teachers in the union would only perform their duties as outlined by the collective bargaining agreement and would not do any work voluntarily beyond those terms and conditions, starting Oct. 7.
The union has been working under an expired contract since June 2012. The average teacher salary in the district in 2011-12 is $43,834, ranking Mount Carmel Area 489th out of 500 Pennsylvania school districts.
The move is to show the amount of work teachers do voluntarily before and after the work day and to express frustration with the status of the contract negotiations with the school board, said MCAEA president and teacher Joseph Varano.
"That's an important point because we are not looking for public sympathy," he said.
Stellar said there haven't been any significant changes, and he has not taken any calls or visits from students or district residents about the teachers' new policy.
"Some teachers liked to stay and tutor kids after school, and now all the teachers are leaving at the end of designated teaching times," he said.
The teachers have a planning period during which some teachers still tutor, he said.
Varano said high school teachers are available from 2:20 to 3:02 p.m. every day for tutoring.
"I can personally attest to this because just the other day, a student spent 40 minutes after school with me catching up on school work," he said. "The difference from the past is that teachers are no longing staying into the evening on a daily basis."
Also, the administrators are now monitoring the halls prior to the teachers arriving in the morning, Stellar said.
There is no need for monitoring the elementary students at the end of the day since there are no extracurricular activities for which they would be staying, Stellar said.
Bus scheduling and duties have not been affected, he said.
What it means
Working to the rule means elementary teachers work from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and middle and high school teachers work from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.
Any work not identified in the contract is not performed, including after-school tutoring, chaperoning school events, meeting parents outside contractual meetings, committees or bus duty. Grading tests, preparing for lessons and entering grades are still done even if not during the school day.
It also looks like a few popular upcoming events might not occur, Stellar said.
This includes the seventh annual Haunted High and the Powder Puff football game both at the junior-senior high school.
"Haunted High School and Powder Puff football are two of the main examples of the volunteer work that teachers do outside of their required activities," Varano said.
Both events require extensive time commitments and management for no monetary compensation, he said.
"We remain hopeful that a deal can be reached so events like these can continue. At this time, I am not sure of the official status of either event," Varano said.
Stellar said the administration may postpone these and other events.
"We're hoping it will be settled before we look at big spring events," he said.
Teaching is a priority
During the school day, Varano said the students will continue to receive "high-quality professional attention and the teachers will continue to have professional relationships with all other school employees."
After only a week, he said it's difficult to measure the effects of working to the rule.
"What's most important here is that we hope the school board will realize the value of our work and truly understand that our teachers voluntarily go above and beyond the requirements of our contract every day," he said.
If students are to succeed, Varano said the district must invest in "priorities that build the foundation for learning."
"We hope the school board addresses the remaining issues at the bargaining table and we can end working to the rule. Our goal is to come to a contract agreement that is equitable, sooner rather than later," he said.
Attempts to reach board President Donna James were unsuccessful Tuesday, but the school board members previously said the district is not as financially well off as the union claims and faces serious concerns involving escalating retirement and health care costs.
Negotiations between the two entities hit a stalemate in May when the school board accepted the report of a Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board fact finder, but the union rejected it.
The next contract negotiation meeting is Nov. 20, but Varano said the negotiating team is willing to meet sooner. The next school board meeting is at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Varano said he's not sure if teachers will picket those meetings like they did at a contract negotiation meeting Sept. 18 and a regular meeting Sept. 19.