Attorney Carl Beard, the solicitor for the Danville Area School Board, said last week there is only one issue in the way of a new five-year contract with the district's teachers union.
It's not salary.
The Danville Education Association negotiators agree with the district's proposal for raises of 3.35 percent the first year, 3.25 percent the second and third years, and 3 percent the final two years, Beard said.
The union is balking at paying a deductible for one health care plan, according to the solicitor.
The district wants to move both the Geisinger Health Plan and Capital Blue Cross plans to deductible plans of $250 for individuals and $750 for families. Teachers currently pay no deductible.
Beard said union negotiator Mark McDade, the Pennsylvania State Education Association local UniServ representative, told him the association did not agree to a deductible plan for GHP members.
Beard said 110 association members are on the Geisinger plan and 53 are on Capital Blue Cross.
"They thought it was $250 for Blue Cross and Geisinger was zero," Beard explained after the recent school board meeting.
He said if that were the case, more employees would move to GHP, which would increase the expense for the district.
Who would blame them? Who wouldn't opt for no deductible on a health insurance plan, an option unheard of in the private sector.
Sure, teachers' health care premium contributions would increase from 11 percent to 12 percent for the last four years of the contract. But not paying a deductible is a pretty sweet deal. Even paying $250 isn't too shabby.
We have little sympathy. Most people pay higher deductibles and pay more in general, while making less in salary. Many people, especially in recent history, have gone years without raises.
That's not to discredit teachers. They have difficult jobs and put in a lot of time after hours grading papers, preparing lesson plans, planning projects and doing countless other tasks.
Still, it almost seems spiteful for the union to hold out to try to avoid paying less than what most working people pay.
Especially since it's been almost a year since the last Danville teachers' contract expired on June 30. At least these negotiations have not yet approached the war the union and district waged in forging that last contract.
The board approved that last bargaining agreement in October 2015 after more than three years of talks, accusations, threats and a strike. That was a seven-year pact, retroactive to 2012-2013. It gave teachers raises totaling 21 percent over the span of the contract and increased their health care premiums by 1 percent, to 11 percent, in the last three years.
DEA President Dave Fortunato said, after hearing Beard's comments at last week's board meeting, that he doesn't negotiate in public. He did say he thought both sides had been working well together. He was frustrated, though, trying to get the board to agree to another meeting.
Both sides need to sit down and settle this. Nine months is way too long, even if these negotiations have been a mostly quiet affair.
We hope they return to the table soon. We also hope these talks, largely amicable so far, do not deteriorate into a schoolyard fistfight. If that happens, the entire district will end up with a bloody nose.