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May 21, 2014

School days dwindle for strike threat

— MANDATA — After what was believed to be a positive negotiating session, Line Mountain administrators and directors were “surprised and concerned” to learn teachers are still threatening to strike with 13 school days left in the year, an attorney says.

Teachers had an opportunity to be immediately reimbursed for college credits if they agreed to end the practice of working to the rule, Line Mountain School District negotiating attorney Benjamin Pratt said.

However, the memorandum of understanding between the two parties was not accomplished after four separate revisions over a two-hour period at the most recent negotiating session, although it indicated a willingness to continue talks, Pratt said.

The memorandum of understanding was included in a two-page statement issued Tuesday that was a response to comments made by Mark McDade, Pennsylvania State Education Association field service representative for the district’s 99 teachers.

Details from the district’s May 12 proposal were also released.

McDade told a Valley newspaper a strike appeared to be imminent and he didn’t know how to bargain with a group of people (the school board) who define negotiations as a “winner-takes-all approach.”

“The board of directors does not agree with Mr. McDade’s assertion that they are taking a ‘winners-take-all approach’ as they feel a strike is the only way losers are guaranteed,” Pratt said. “Unfortunately the losers would be the students, and seven of the nine members currently have children in the school.”

Considering the April 22 negotiating session saw discussions start again, Pratt said the district is “mystified” that McDade would make such statements only 15 days later.

Teachers in the Line Mountain Education Association have been working without a contract since June 30, 2012, which marked the end of a one-year extension to a five-year contract.

In March, the teachers authorized an option to strike, and they picketed at the March 11 board meeting. They also have been working to rule since Sept. 30, which means they will not volunteer their services outside their contracted 7½-hour day.

McDade stands by his statements.

“The board demonstrated no willingness to move the negotiation forward,” he said. “The association proposed items that reflected the board needs while providing the association with considerations, but the board rejected all four of our offers.”

While the union agreed to more of the district’s demands, it wasn’t good enough, McDade said.

“They have an insatiable appetite,” he said.

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