Abington Heights’ teachers strike ‘realistic possibility’

By Robert Tomkavage rtomkavage@civitasmedia.com

June 10, 2014

A teacher’s strike to begin the next school year became a real possibility after the teacher’s union rejected a fact-finding report May 30.

The report was complied by an independent fact-finder appointed by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

The teachers’ union requested fact-finding in 2012-13 and 2013-14. The Abington Heights Board of Education accepted both fact finding reports, while the union rejected both of them over the course of three years.

“I think (a strike is) a very realistic possibility,” Abington Heights Superintendent of School Dr. Michael Mahon said. “I hope that it does not occur, but those, very much, are decisions that have to be made by the union.”

“In all honestly, I hope that we can be in the classroom,” teacher’s union president Jim Maria said. “I don’t know…it’s going to be hard to get our people to want to be in the classroom if we don’t have a contract in place. Unfortunately, it (a strike) absolutely is well within the realm of possibility.”

Abington Heights’ teachers have been working without a contract since their last one expired Aug. 31, 2011.

They big issue for the union remains the divide over retroactive pay and salaries.

The district proposed a salary freeze from 2011-12 through 2013-14, while the union asked for a four percent increase each year in the total base payroll of $15.835 million in 2011-12 through 2016-17.

The fact-finder requested an increase of $500 to each step of the salary guide for each year of the 2011-17 contract. Teachers would also not receive retroactive raises for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

“The only thing that we still remain far apart on is the issue of salary and retroactive pay,” Maria said. “That’s been the major sticking point and is still the major sticking point. In all honesty, if the rest of the contract is done and the board agrees with that, since they voted ‘yes’ for the fact finding, I don’t think we’re that far apart.

“It’s less than a two percent raise and doesn’t even keep you current with inflation,” Maria added.

According to Mahon, while the board wasn’t comfortable with every aspect in thee report, it chose to accept.

“It was very hard for the board to approve because it varied from its position and cost money,” Mahon said, “but I think the board showed great leadership in its effort to resolve a difficult labor issue. It stepped up, it did the hard thing and, unfortunately, the (teacher’s) union was not able to approve it (the report).”

The district proposed that employees contribute $500 per month toward premiums for a family plan and $300 each month for individual plans. The fact-finding recommendation required no employee contributions for the entire term of the six-year contract and included comprehensive family medical, prescription, vision, and dental free through the 2016-17 school year.

Mahon was surprised by the union’s decision after some of their previous actions.

“I actually thought they they were going to approve it,” he said. “They were here encouraging the board and superintendent not to ‘ruin the district.’ I thought that was a perfect prelude to their stepping up and agreeing to resolve this labor impasse for the sake of the community, for the sake of the teachers, and, of course, for the sake of the students.”

In other business: the board voted to approve four cheerleading coaches: Kristen Barrett, Samantha Kelly, Ashley Stampien, and Amanda Iffert at a cost of $1,570 each. There will be a varsity football and varsity basketball head coach, and an assistant coach for each squad.

The board voted, 7-0, to award the bid for the Newton Ransom Elementary Roof Restoration Project to Dunmore Roofing in the amount of $283,300.

The board voted, 6-0, to award the bid for the High School Pool HVAC Project to Pettinato & Mercanti Construction in the amount of $61,966.