By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
MANDATA — Teachers in the Line Mountain School District, working nearly two years without a contract, protested Tuesday night in front of the Junior/Senior High, where the school board held an eight-minute meeting and left.
A crowd of about 100 teachers, supporters and union officials from the Danville, Warrior Run, Midd-West, Selinsgrove, Shamokin and Shikellamy school districts attended the demonstration in a show of solidarity with Line Mountain educators.
Among those in the rally was Mark McDade, Pennsylvania State Educational Association UniServ field service representative.
"What got us to this point is the misinformation that the board is spreading to the public, only to cause angst and to stir the pot,” he said. “They aren’t out to bring real solutions to the bargaining table. These teachers put an honest day’s work in, and we want an honest contract. That’s what we want to come of this rally.”
Line Mountain teachers are working under the terms of an expired contract, that itself is a one-year extension of a five-year pact that ended June 30, 2011. The five-year contract assured educators of a 3 percent raise during each year of the agreement.
Teachers have been working since July 1, 2012, with their salaries frozen.
The Line Mountain Education Association, representing 110 teachers, on Oct. 1 implemented a work-to-rule action meant to demonstrate its frustration with negotiations, McDade said.
A work to rule action means teachers perform their duties as outlined by the collective bargaining agreement, but do not work voluntarily beyond the terms and conditions of the contract. It also means teachers are willing to work only the minimum, required 7½ hours per day, 186 days per year, with three personal days and 10 sick days.
Elementary staffers have 6½ hours of instruction time, and middle/high school staff have 7 hours of instruction time.
Signs on Tuesday night that read: “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last” expressed their disappointment with the slow pace of negotiations, said one teacher, who asked not to be identified as she deferred further comments to her union representative.
McDade said the purpose of Tuesday’s night demonstration was to “heighten the awareness in this community. These teachers are professionals, but they also have families and they have bills to pay, too. They understand the responsibility of their job. They want to be compensated for it.”
The sticking point appears to be salary and benefits, but both sides said they were prohibited by law from discussing details of the negotiations.
McDade, however, said the real impediment to the stalemate was “the board’s refusal to bargain.”
McDade accused school board president Troy Laudenslager of “misrepresenting the facts.”
The two sides last met Jan. 23. McDade said the board did not make a credible offer, as promised; Laudenslager said the teachers’ negotiating team walked out of the meeting.
“We gave them three possible meeting dates in April and he picked the latest date, April 22,” McDade said.
After the regularly scheduled board meeting concluded, Laudenslager said: “I have always supported our teachers. It is a noble profession. When I first came on the board I supported a large salary hike. But the situation now is what it is. As for our willingness to meet, I’ll meet with them tomorrow if they want to truly negotiate.”
To which McDade, by phone, responded: “He knows how to reach me.”
McDade said more meeting dates will be suggested, as will more rallies.
“These teachers are not frustrated,” McDade said. “I believe they are disappointed. We’re not asking for a handout. These teachers earn their salary. They deserve respect because they’ve earned it.”