Danville Area School District teachers plan to strike on Nov. 2 — unless they reach a contract settlement with the school district by then.
Danville Education Association (DEA) President Dave Fortunato said the union negotiation team presented that date to board negotiators last week. The union members, who have been working without contract since June 30, 2019, decided in an "all but unanimous vote" on Nov. 12, 2019, to authorize the walkout.
"We're just to the point we dropped from a five-year to a two-year plan, under district's basic request," Fortunato said of setting the strike date. "We don't know what else to do. We felt we were left with no alternative."
He said teachers would prefer not to strike. After the DEA presented the potential strike date, both sides agreed to hold talks on Oct. 26 and 27.
It appeared the board and the union were near an agreement in March, just before the COVID-19 shutdown. District officials believed the teachers had accepted a five-year contract offer that included teachers paying health insurance deductibles, Fortunato said.
"There just happened to be a misunderstanding," Fortunato said. "They thought we accepted it. We never accepted it."
School board solicitor Carl Beard announced at the March 11 board meeting that the sides were close to a five-year contract agreement. He said the only item blocking a final agreement was the health care deductible, Beard said.
The district's proposed agreement included raises of 3.35 percent the first year, 3.25 percent the second and third years, and 3 percent the final two years. The district also 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 Danville Education Association union representative 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 meeting.
He said if that were the case, more employees would move to GHP, which would increase the expense for the district.
Fortunato, who was at the board meeting, said afterward, "I'm not going to speak about negotiations in public."
Fortunato on Wednesday said that after schools shut down on March 13, negotiations stalled.
"We're all aware COVID has caused chaos and budgetary uncertainty, not just with the school district, but with the public and taxpayers," he said.
"We're optimistic. That's why we gave them a two-year proposal."
The union is proposing raises of 3.35 percent the first year and 3.25 percent the second year, which is the current school year. Teachers who have Capital Blue Cross health insurance through the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit's health care trust would pay deductibles of $250 for an individual and $750 for a family, up from the previous zero deductible, which the trust eliminated in 2020. Under the DEA proposal, Geisinger Health Plan members still would pay no deductible. Teachers under both plans would see their premium costs go to 12 percent, up from the current 11 percent.
School Superintendent Ricki Boyle is not on the board negotiation team with Beard, board President Bonnie Edmeads, Vice President Chris Huron and member Christina Fish, but Boyle recently met with them for an update.
She said she and the board appreciate everything teachers have been doing to educate all children during the COVID pandemic.
"We do not want to see any work stoppage take place," she said. "We are optimistic we can return to the table Oct. 26 and 27 to work out a deal."
The teachers' previous seven-year contract, which the board approved in October 2015 after more than three years of talks, accusations, threats and a strike, was retroactive to 2012-2013. It gave teachers raises totaling 21 percent over the seven-year period and increased their health care premiums by 1 percent, to 11 percent, in the last three years.