The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

March 13, 2013

Opening the door to negotiations

Contract negotiations are almost always done behind closed doors and with good reason. Both sides, whether the discussion is teachers vs. school boards or union laborers vs. business leaders, don't want their dirty laundry out there for the entire world to see. It's the old sausage metaphor.

Once in a while though, the doors flip open and everything is done out loud. That's a good thing, too.

This is happening in Danville where school directors have now twice rejected a state-appointed fact-finder's report in dealings with the new teacher contract, a report the teachers have accepted.

Like many school districts in the Valley, Danville has spent the first part of the year finding ways to close holes in a more than $1 million budget deficit. It is doing so in the middle of contract negotiations with teachers, not the easiest thing in the world to do.

What the open door does is give taxpayers an opportunity to get an inside look at how education costs are being driven. We all know it takes a lot of money to fund our local school districts and, for the most part, it is one of the few taxes that everyone understands. The hope is our tax dollars will go toward making the district stronger, making the future brighter for our children.

By far, the largest expense for any school district is personnel cost and not just salaries for teachers, but the benefits that go into negotiated contracts. Teachers have extraordinary job security and terrific benefits thanks to a very strong union that has been a stronghold for decades. While the economy -- and thus Joe and Jane Taxpayer -- has suffered in recent years, teachers have been somewhat better insulated.

Maybe now, with the door opened a crack, something can be worked out to benefit both the taxpayers and the teachers. That means both sides giving a little -- are you listening Washington? -- and taking a little.

Each side acknowledges work needs to be done. While the teachers accepted the report, Danville Education Association head Dave Fortunato said "The school board has their issues, we have our issues. Sometimes it just takes a while to work them out."

Work them out they must. And maybe now that we all can see what each side wants, it forces the hand of both to come to a mutual, and financially sound, agreement.

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