Greencastle-Antrim contract negotiations: Teachers authorize strike

Written by Jim Hook/The Chambersburg Public Opinion | Dec 15, 2017 6:21 PM

Greencastle-Antrim High School, photographed on Thursday, July 7, 2016. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

(Greencastle) -- Greencastle-Antrim teachers have authorized a strike.

The announcement follows a second vote by the Greencastle-Antrim school board not to accept the recommendations of a state-appointed fact-finder for a four-year contract.

"That is the standard reaction any time a school board rejects a fact-finder's recommendations," said Mike King, the school district's solicitor in negotiations. "The district has indicated its willingness to return to the bargaining table in an effort to achieve a settlement that is fair to both teachers and taxpayers and is hopeful that the association will do so."

"We will continue to negotiate in good faith because a strike is the last thing anybody wants," said Brandon Solomon, a high-school English teacher and GAEA's chief negotiator. "But, as the report made clear, the district's demands for salary freezes, reduced starting salaries and changes to health-care benefits means teachers' pay would not even keep up with the cost of living."

In Chambersburg, the school district and teachers this week came to an agreement on a four-year contract after negotiating since March. That contract includes a starting salary of $48,418 for teachers. 

King said, "As a matter of fiduciary responsibility and fundamental fairness to taxpayers, the district is seeking to moderate salary increases over the next few years in order to bring them somewhat more in line with the local market."

The district's proposed pay would not keep pace with inflation, according to Solomon. Teachers' salaries account for a smaller portion of the district's instruction budget in part because of the sacrifices teachers made when the district was going through difficult financial times during the recession.

The district also proposes changes to health benefits that would bring the teachers' plan more in line with taxpayers' own plans.

The fact-finder reported that the district's proposal would seriously alter a 2-year-old medical benefits plan: "It is too early to conclude that the plan is not controlling costs."

Teachers are working under the terms of a contract that expired Aug. 31. The Greencastle-Antrim Education Association represents 180 teachers.

Union members authorized a strike on Wednesday at the same time they approved the fact-finder's recommendations for the second time, and a day before the school board unanimously rejected the recommendations for a second time. Teachers gave the bargaining team the ability to call a strike at any time, provided it gives the district a legally mandated 48-hour notice.

"Our teachers have spoken loud and clear that we are ready to strike if it becomes necessary." Ellen Kirkner, a high-school social studies teacher and GAEA president.

The teachers and the district have met 11 times over the past year before reaching an impasse and bringing in a state-appointed mediator. Teachers requested fact finding in October. The report was issued at the end of November.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Chambersburg Public Opinion

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