By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News
DANVILLE — Nearly four hours of negotiations could not prevent the first teacher strike at Danville in decades.
School board and Danville Education Association representatives met for one final meeting at 6 p.m. at Danville High School on Wednesday, mere hours before the strike was scheduled to occur at 12:01 a.m. today
The assembled parties did not leave the building until almost 10 p.m., with the negotiation session finally being closed by a state-appointed mediator sent to arbitrate between the two groups.
The mediator adjourned negotiations when it became clear progress would no longer be made between the two sides, according to school board president Allan Schappert.
“Eventually a contract will be reached, it just won’t be this evening,” Schappert said.
Mark McDade, labor representative for the DEA, described the meeting as “disappointing.” He said the school board was more interested in playing politics than in coming to an agreement with the 187 members of the DEA.
Schappert did not share McDade’s sentiments. “He’s entitled to his opinion, but I would disagree with that,” he said.
McDade said the strike would last for as long as the Pennsylvania Department of Education permits, which he estimated to be about five school days. The Pennsylvania Department of Education requires at least 180 days of instruction by June 15 every school year. The first day of the strike will be today, with the second official day being Tuesday, due to the Easter break, Schappert said.
The big issues for the DEA were tuition reimbursement, salaries and benefits, McDade said. Schappert said the board was not as concerned with tuition reimbursement as it was with salary and benefit rates. “There was professionalism on both sides of the table” during the meeting, McDade said.
Due to the state’s requirement of 180 days of education, graduation will have to be pushed back from its previous date, Schappert said.
“We’ve done everything we can to mitigate the obviously negative impacts,” he said.
The DEA did provide more advance notice of their intent to strike than many other teacher’s unions give their districts, Schappert said.
During the strike, some district services, such as bus transportation for private school students, will still be available, Schappert said. Athletics will be affected, but Schappert said he was not certain on the specifics. If coaches for a sport are also teachers, that would create difficulty, he said.
The teachers have not had a contract since the end of June, 2012. In March, the school board revealed a contract offer it had made to the DEA back in February. This offer rejected by the DEA, included approximately $832,000 to be divided among the salaries of the DEA’s members. The combined wages and benefits increase to be divided among the DEA’s members was $3.345 million. School board records show that this would have been an 8.26 percent increase to teacher wages and a 23.72 percent increase to combined wages and benefits packages. The DEA filed unfair labor charges against the district for publicly revealing that information, but the state labor board dismissed those charges last week.
The DEA has regularly pointed to a state fact-finder’s report from last spring which recommended a series of salary raises for the teachers based on financial information provided by the district. The DEA has regularly asked for salary increases that came in lower than the fact-finder’s report, DEA President Dave Fortunato said. The district rejected the fact-finder’s report as financially unfeasible.
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