Teacher contract talks reach an impasse
NORRISTOWN » A teachers’ strike could be looming in the Methacton School District if an impasse in contract negotiations is not resolved within quickly approaching deadlines.
The school board announced in a press release that it has unilaterally filed a fact-finding request with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in an effort to settle on a contract with the Methacton Education Association, which represents 403 educators who teach approximately 5,000 students in the district’s seven schools.
If the labor board accepts the school district’s request, a neutral third party will be assigned to perform a 40-day review of proposals from each side and file a report with contract recommendations.
The district and the union would then have 10 days to accept or reject the report in a process that would culminate on Nov. 19.
Although a strike is prohibited while fact-finding is underway, the Methacton Education Association could preclude the process should teachers choose to walk before Sept. 19.
According to the district, most major issues, including the development of salary schedules and work schedules, have been resolved, but a chasm remains between labor and management when it comes to health care coverage and premium sharing, which the district says it wants to bring in line with neighboring school districts.
The teachers, who say they were blind sided and disappointed by the district’s decision to unilaterally file for the fact-finding request a day after lengthy negotiations broke down, argue that they have made considerable concessions to help the district stay solvent through the Great Recession and feel disrespected by having being presented with a contract that would place them near the top of the county in terms of premium-sharing expense while remaining below the county average in salaries.
“Our goal is to settle the contract as soon as possible through bargaining,” said Diana Kernop, co-president of the Methacton Education Association. “We feel that there are very few issues separating us.”
With fact-finding, either party could put issues back in play that could block a more easily attainable settlement, she added.
“The district needs to continue to make an investment in their teachers. We work hard, and we’re a very high-performing district,” she said.
Kernop cited a pay freeze and delayed salary increases in the previous two four-year contracts, respectively, as examples of concessions from teachers that allowed the district to “improve their finances dramatically.” She also pointed to the “countless hours” teachers put in during the restructuring period surrounding the recent closing of Audubon Elementary School and said for the first time in her 40-year career, she is seeing retention issues with teachers in the district.
“We want them to respect us and we want them to put education first, but you can’t put education first if you put teachers last,” Kernop said.
In a statement included with the release, school board President Chris Boardman expressed hope that the fact-finding process would help resolve the labor dispute “in a positive way.”
“We have been negotiating since January, utilized the support of a state mediator and have tried everything in our power to reach an agreement that is fair and fiscally responsible. I am hoping that factfinding will make this a reality. Also, I hope parents’ minds will be put at ease since a strike cannot occur during this process,” Boardman said.
On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania State Education Association representative leading the Methacton Education Association in bargaining submitted a proposal to the district’s chief negotiator on behalf of the teachers union. The union is waiting to find out whether the district will consider the proposal or present a counter offer.