By Robert Stoneback
The Daily Item
DANVILLE — A teachers strike has been authorized to begin April 17 by the Danville Education Association, union president Dave Fortunato said Thursday night.
The vote to strike followed the most recent negotiation session with the district, held Wednesday. The approximately 190 members of the DEA were notified Thursday afternoon of the negotiating committee’s decision to strike.
“We felt that we were left with no alternative,” Fortunato said. “The Danville district is a high-performing district, and schools are the center of the community. Teachers should be rewarded. Teachers should be paid for the noble job that they do.”
The association had voted to allow a strike to occur in December, should members wish. It was then left up to the six members of the negotiation committee to determine when and if a strike was warranted.
The decision among the members was unanimous, Fortunato said. The DEA’s negotiation committee is composed of Fortunato, Robert Coulter, Tom Humbert, Deb Slattery, John Keller and Kennee Halye.
Teachers, who have been working out a contract since the end of the 2011-2012 school year, plan to hold a rally at Danville High School before the school board meeting Tuesday.
Teachers will continue to educate leading up to the strike, Fortunato said.
“You will still see teachers going in and doing the excellent job they have been doing.”
Educators will not be discussing negotiations or the strike with the students, he said.
He did not want to discuss the specific DEA demands.
The DEA is prepared to strike for as long as it is permitted by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Fortunato said.
According to the website of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, teachers may strike up to twice a year. By law, a strike cannot prevent a district from providing 180 days of instruction before June 15 or the last day of the scheduled school year, whichever comes first.
“We will probably be looking at a day for day slip with graduation” for each day of the strike, said school board President Allan Schappert.
“It’s their legal right to strike,” Schappert said of the union, though he said its demands were unrealistic given current economic realities.
“(The state pension fund) PSERs is killing us and every other school district,” Schappert said. “It’s extremely shortsighted and ill advised to acquiesce just because somebody thinks they’re not being paid enough. This is the hand that we were dealt. We don’t like it either, but we are responsible for making it work as best we can.
“I’m terribly disappointed and disgusted with the whole thing ... this continuing escalating of muscularity, like a petulant teenager not getting their way,” Schappert said.
Fortunato responded to Schappert’s statement, saying: “I don’t know how calling the people who educate our community names furthers the educational process. It seems to me the only people interested in furthering the educational process in this district are the teachers and administrators … We have and will continue to negotiate in good faith.”
In regards to PSERs, Fortunato said that the board had previously set aside about $6.8 million to help cover PSERs costs and added that teachers had not been given a raise in two years.
Schappert stated that the money set aside would “absolutely not” be enough to cover the annually rising PSERs costs faced by the district.
“It will just make it later on the time line before we’re broke,” he said.
A presentation Schappert gave at the March 11 school board meeting showed that with no increased operation costs, no salary increases and the maximum property tax increase of 2.5 percent, district expenses would outweigh revenues through the 2019-2020 school year and possibly beyond.
The bulk of these rising costs stemmed from increasing costs of pension and health care.
The predicted deficit for the end of the 2013-2014 school year was $342,147. The deficit for the nexta academic year would be $61,258 because of a predicted temporary increase in revenue, and then plummeting to $1.02 million for the 2015-2016 school year.
Fortunato said he found it difficult to believe the school district’s financial estimates. In March 2013, the district was expecting a deficit of about $800,000, but in November the district had a $3.2 million surplus.
“It’s difficult to believe those predictions when in an eight-month period of time they had a $5.2 million swing,” Fortunato said.
Schappert said that the surplus was the result of operating efficiencies, reducing work staff, a temporary spike in earned income tax and a change between tax collecting agencies which flushed out additional funds.
The Line Mountain School District in 1981 is believed to have been the last Valley school district to strike.