DISTRICT STRIKES BACK

Par­ents, stu­dents protest on­go­ing con­tract dis­pute, teach­ers strike in Dal­las

The Citizens' Voice - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL P. BUF­FER Staff Writer

DAL­LAS TWP. — Strik­ing Dal­las School District teach­ers had some com­pany pick­et­ing with signs Fri­day on the school district cam­pus.

Roughly two dozen par­ents and tax­pay­ers were pick­et­ing in front of the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing to voice their dis­plea­sure with the strike, which now has forced the school district to can­cel six school days. Most there blamed both the school board and the teach­ers union for fail­ing to find a com­pro­mise.

Event or­ga­nizer Joanna Cun­ning­ham said the rally was not a protest against the teach­ers, but she did en­dorse leg­is­la­tion that would pro­hibit teach­ers from strik­ing in the state. She also launched an on­line pe­ti­tion back­ing the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion, which has re­ceived sup­port from more than 1,400 peo­ple.

“We are neu­tral,” said Cun­ning­ham, who has chil­dren in the first and fourth grades at Dal­las El­e­men­tary School. “Everyone is to blame. We want the prob­lem to be solved.”

Cun­ning­ham was up­set when for­mer Dal­las School Board mem­ber Clarke Bit­tner ar­rived and started at­tack­ing the teach­ers union.

“Our school board has to be com­mended,” Bit­tner said.

Teach­ers have not had a union agree­ment and pay in­creases since Septem­ber 2015. They went on strike in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber 2016 and started an­other strike Sept. 22.

‘I love our teach­ers ... But the strike is just tear­ing apart the com­mu­nity. The com­mu­nity is go­ing to be bro­ken from this for a very long time.’ DIANE PO­CONO District par­ent

Stick­ing points in ne­go­ti­a­tions have in­cluded de­mands that teach­ers con­trib­ute more to fund health ben­e­fits, pro­pos­als to al­ter an early re­tire­ment in­cen­tive and dis­agree­ments on how much to pro­vide for pay in­creases.

Par­tic­i­pants in Fri­day’s an­ti­strike demon­stra­tion were chant­ing while strik­ing teach­ers walked up and down Conyn­g­ham Av­enue.

“What do we want?” a par­tic­i­pant asked.

“End the strike!” the group an­swered.

“When do we want it?” she fol­lowed up. “Now!” the group replied. John Hol­land, a re­gion field di­rec­tor for the Penn­syl­va­nia State Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion and chief ne­go­tia­tor for the Dal­las teach­ers union, was down the street and said it would be “un-Amer­i­can” to strip teach­ers of the right to strike.

“It’s part of democ­racy, the right to protest,” Hol­land said.

The goal of ed­u­ca­tion is to pro­duce “re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens” who can get “good jobs and good ben­e­fits,” and teach­ers are be­ing crit­i­cized for try­ing to pro­tect their jobs and ben­e­fits, Hol­land said.

Shelby Po­cono, a high school fresh­man, was at the an­ti­strike demon­stra­tion.

“I miss the rou­tine, see­ing my friends, hav­ing things to do,” she said.

She is in the march­ing band and com­plained the band hasn’t prac­ticed since the strike be­gan and “just shows up for games.”

Her mother, Diane Po­cono, said her other daugh­ter, an eighth-grade stu­dent, was “home in bed” be­cause “she has set­tled into that rou­tine in­stead of get­ting up at 6 a.m.”

“I love our teach­ers,” she added. “I spent many years at Wy­cal­lis (El­e­men­tary School) do­ing crafts with the kids. But the strike is just tear­ing apart the com­mu­nity. The com­mu­nity is go­ing to be bro­ken from this for a very long time.”

Lacy Rice has three boys — Pre-K, fifth grade and eighth grade. Be­cause of the strike, she has to spend more on day­care at Dal­las Lit­tle Peo­ple.

“It’s an ex­tra ex­pense,” she said. “I’m a sin­gle mom, in nurs­ing school, and I work. I just want it to end. They are not ac­com­plish­ing any­thing.”

Lisa Ay­ers said the strike pre­vents her from do­ing work on her land­scape busi­ness be­cause she now has to take care of her two boys, a kinder­garten stu­dent and a sec­ond­grade stu­dent.

“They need to come to­gether,” Ay­ers said.

The state lim­its the length the teacher strikes, and the school district will resched­ule school days lost from the strike. Teach­ers can strike twice per school year, and the first strike must end so stu­dents can have 180 school days by June 15. The state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion has de­ter­mined that teach­ers are re­quired to be back at work Oct. 19.

Mark Mo­raN / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Mark Mo­raN / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Lacy Rice with her sons, Ryan, left, and Sean, gather with other par­ents sup­port­ing an end to the teach­ers strike at Dal­las High School on Fri­day. Top: Dal­las fresh­man Shelby Po­cono said she misses her school rou­tine.

MARK MO­RAN / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Joanna Cun­ning­ham, cen­ter, leads a group of par­ents sup­port­ing an end to the teach­ers strike as strik­ing teach­ers walk nearby at Dal­las High School on Fri­day.

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