Negotiations fail to narrow gap between board, union
PENNSBrRY – Representatives from the Pennsbury School Board and the Pennsbury Education Association (PEA) met Dec. 17 in their latest effort to hammer out an agreement between the board and teachers union.
According to school board solicitor and chief negotiator Jeffrey Sultanik, both sides left the twohour session the same way they went in: at an impasse.
“They were as clear as can be,” Sultanik said. “They want the board to raise taxes to fund their new contract. I know of no board in the region that would allow that to happen.”
The impasse may have grown wider after Tuesday’s session, Sultanik said.
“rnfortunately, I believe we are further apart,” according to Sultanik. “The association has taken the audacious position that the board needs to increase taxes to fund the union’s already rich labor contract.”
The idea that the session got the sides no closer to an accord appears to be the one thing both sides agree on, said PEA vicepresident and spokesperson iucy Walter.
“There’s been a proposal (from the board) on the table for three years that focuses on punitive issues and don’t reflect what’s going on in the district,” Walter said. “Instead of working on problems that don’t exist, they need to work on the problems that do exist.”
Walter was referring to the board’s proposal from three years ago, she said, that dealt with issues such as class size and taking away teacher’s prep time so they can perform other tasks such as “bathroom duty,” according to Walter.
Of the class size issue, Walter said the board wants to eliminate class size limits. Currently, the high school teachers are limited to 84 students per semester. Walter estimated that those classes currently average about 25 – 28 students, a number she called, “workable.
“Why try to fix what isn’t broken?” she asked.
The board has not wavered from its insistence that they will not raise taxes to fund a new deal for PEA, whose members have been working without a contract since June, 2010, the same year that Pennsbury School Board last increased taxes.
The session was the first since Nov. 27, at which time Sultanik expected a new union proposal. According to the solicitor, after no such proposal was offered at that session, he expected the PEA to present something at the Dec. 17 meeting.
“[PEA] failed to deliver,” Sul- tanik said. “They are still asking for 4.9 percent per year in salary increases, retroactive to the 201011 school year. What is most disappointing is that the union’s sole strategy is to have the board increase taxes.”
Walter said the union is ready and willing to make a proposal, but reiterated that the board’s stance on some issues must change before that will happen.
“We’re ready to look at health care, we’re ready to make a proposal,” Walter said. “We know there are obstacles. But they need to look at their side. They need to figure out what they want to do. In negotiations, you don’t get everything you want. We know that.”
According to Walter, the result of a tax hike goes beyond raising teachers’ salaries.
“At this point, they need to raise taxes just to pay their bills,” Walter said. “But they want zero (tax increase) forever. It’s not a viable option.”
Sultanik said while there has been a “tentative agreement on a number of different language issues” the gap on the key issues remains wide.
“We are still far apart on other language issues and are not even in the same ballpark when it comes to salary and benefits,” Sultanik said. “The union is still clinging to a retroactive salary proposal calling for salary increases of 4.9 percent per year for five years.”
The key issue remains the union’s insistence on a pay raise. That is not the only issue at play during these negotiations. According to Sultanik, the “contract differences relate to salaries, benefits, management rights, forced union dues, the amount of time worked by bargaining unit members, and accountability.”
Despite a plea from the PEA,
made in the form of a news release from Walter, asking for members of the Pennsbury School Board to attend the negotiations, the board chose to let Sultanik do its bargaining.
Board president Allan Weisel had a simple explanation for keeping board members away from the negotiating table.
“It’s the longtime strategy of the Pennsylvania State Education Association to invite untrained board members into sessions with professionally trained negotiators,” Weisel said. “For board members to attend these sessions would be a disservice to the students and the taxpayers of the district.”
According to Walter, no member of the Pennsbury School Board has attended a negotiating session for the past two years and disagreed that their inclusion in the negotiations would be a negative.
“We really need the board at the table,” Walter said. “We’re not going to settle this with a third party. [Sultanik] has made a lot of money and gotten no settlement. He can’t make decisions for the board. They’re elected to vote on issues in the district.”
Hours before Tuesday’s session, Weisel said not to expect any board members to be in attendance.
“The board unanimously supports our trained chief negotiator, Jeff Sultanik, and believes it’s in the best interests of everyone to have professional negotiators negotiate with professional negotiators,” Weisel said.