The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

December 18, 2013

School director: Let public see teacher contract offers

DANVILLE — School board president Allan Schappert wants the public to see the contract terms being offered by both the Danville school board and Danville Education Association.

Schappert’s comments come after a Monday night meeting where the association voted to authorize the ability to strike in the future if their ongoing contract negotiations are not met. Dave Fortunato, president of the association, said the vote was taken as the union feels the school board is not dealing fairly with them.

“I would be happy to release to the public what our latest offer was if that’s okay with the union,” Schappert said. “Let the people who finance this, the taxpayers, have an opportunity to comment.” However, such an action cannot be done without the consent of both sides, he said.

Fortunato said he would not make such a decision without first conferring with the rest of the negotiation team.

Part of the association’s complaints stem from a fact-finder report filed earlier this year by a state-appointed arbitrator. The fact-finder’s report recommended a 2.5 percent to 3.2 percent pay increase for each school year from 2012-2013 through 2015-2016 as well as salary step advancements for those school years except 2012-2013. The arbiter would not have recommended these changes if the district could not afford them, Fortunato said.

That report was also made open to the public after it was rejected by the school board, Fortunato said. While those terms are not the most recent, they are from earlier this year and can be seen freely by people. The entirety of the report, filed this past March, can be viewed at http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/fact-finding_reports/10498.

Fortunato also pointed out that it was the board that originally asked for the report in the first place. “That report was requested by the school board and the board rejected it,” he said.

From reading the fact-finder’s report, the school board believed the arbiter misunderstood the nature of teacher salary percentage increases and how they add up with salary step increases. Ultimately, “what he recommended is not affordable,” Schappert said.

The board also has to be aware of the total amount of compensation given teachers from other sources such as retirement and healthcare funds, Schappert said. Over the years, those benefits have become increasingly rich even if salaries have not gone up as consistently.

Fortunato also brought up a school district report that listed a $3.2 million budget surplus for the coming year, as well as additional funds set aside for contract pay raises. “We don’t even need that much money,” he said.

In November, district business manager Janis Venna said that the $3.2 million surplus would quickly be eaten up by rising costs in health care and retirement contributions.

Fortunato said even with those costs being used to cover other expenses, there still should be enough left for raises.

The teacher’s union has been pressuring district administrators for the last several months to accept their terms, Schappert said. “My response to the administrators is that this is between the board and the union,” he said. Administrators, including Superintendent Cheryl Latorre and Venna, do not sit in on negotiations between the two groups.

“It eliminates any possibility of mixed motive. They have to work with the union folks every day, and we don’t want to unnecessarily poison the well with mixed feelings. … It’s not an administrator issue although it certainly affects them,” Schappert said.

If the union does decide to strike, that choice is entirely on them, he said. “A strike is solely and unilaterally a decision by the union. The board has no input into that.”

Negotiations between the school board and union are scheduled to begin again in early February.

Email questions or comments to rstoneback@thedanvillenews.com.

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