The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

April 29, 2014

Post-strike: Danville Area School District back to normal

DANVILLE — School life seemingly returned to normal Monday, the first day back for teachers and students following a five-day strike by the Danville Education Association.

“Everything was very professional,” said Cheryl Latorre, superintendent for Danville’s school district. “I think the kids are happy to be back and we’re happy to be back to normal.”

Due to the strike, graduation has now been rescheduled for June 13, Latorre said.

“All the teachers were back doing what we do best, and that’s teaching,” said Dave Fortunato, president of the DEA.

“It was a quiet day,” added Allan Schappert, president of the school board. “I think everyone is glad school is back in session and there’s some sort of normalcy.”

Schappert expects the rest of the school year to reflect Monday’s return. “Teachers will teach, students will learn, administrators will administrate,” until the end of the school year, he said.

As per state labor rules, both the DEA and school board will go into arbitration following the strike. The process started Monday, Schappert said.

Arbitration will consist of a three-member panel, with one person chosen from the DEA, one from the school board and a third from the American Arbitration Association.

Both sides will present their case to the arbitrator and a decision will be made, Fortunato said. The DEA and school board can then vote whether or not to accept the arbitrator’s contract decision.

Fortunato expects the process to take about two months.

Schappert said it would last until the arbitrators finished.

Both sides expected relationships to remain polite with each other throughout the school year.

“I expect it to be pretty quiet. As far as we’re concerned, it remains cordial and open. I think that everyone is ready to go through the process of non-binding arbitration,” Schappert said.

“In my opinion, I don’t have a bad relationship with the school board, it’s the negotiation session we’re in,” Fortunato said.

The strike was the result of failed contract negotiations between the school board and the DEA, who had been off contract since the end of June 2012. The strike began on April 17 and ended Friday. School was closed April 18 and 21 due to the Easter holiday. The DEA’s approximately 190 members picketed on public property near each of the district’s four buildings, with all members gathering along Route 11 near the Danville High School on the strike’s final day.

“We had an overwhelming number of positive comments toward us” both on April 25 and throughout the strike, Fortunato said. “It really unified the association.”

The length of the strike was dictated by the state’s Department of Education requirement that the district have 180 days of education by June 15.

The DEA have regularly pointed to a report from a state-appointed fact-finder from last spring that suggested a series of salary and benefit increases based on district financial data. The DEA requested salary increases lower than what the fact-finder suggested, Fortunato said.

The school district has maintained that both the fact-finder’s and teacher’s requested increases are financially unfeasible in the face of the district’s rising, state-mandated contributions to retirement funds and insurance.

Email comments to rstoneback@thedanvillenews.com.

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