Last updated: April 08. 2014 11:17PM - 1800 Views
By Joe Healey jhealey@civitasmedia.com

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EXETER — A neutral arbitrator has ruled in favor of the Wyoming Area teachers union on Tuesday, according the union’s president.

The Wyoming Area Education Association immediately met and voted unanimously to accept the arbitrator’s ruling, but the Wyoming Area School Board will likely reject it.

“We’re very, very pleased,” said Wyoming Area Education Association President Melissa Dolman. “It is my hope the school board will accept the proposal and we can put this to rest and move on. Four years is a long time.”

Unionized teachers called a strike in September and walked out of the classroom after only three days of school. The teachers returned on Oct. 4, when they were required to by law and have been working under terms of an expired contract since August 2010.

Salary, health care and health care opt-outs are the primary sticking points.

Attorney Jack Dean, who represents the district, said he was only able to skim through the ruling, but from what he saw, he would recommend the district reject the ruling.

“It’s financially untenable,” he said. He said the district would have to raise taxes each year above the state-allowed index to afford the teachers’ proposal.

He said there would be a $2 million to $3 million deficit if the taxes are just raised to the index. The index is generally between 1.9 and 2.2 percent, he said.

The district and union were in a processes called mandatory non-binding arbitration. The union and the district submitted their last, best offers back in November as part of the process. A neutral arbitrator, Ralph Colflesh of the American Arbitration Association, reviewed those offers and made a the union recommendation Tuesday.

Both sides have 10 days to accept or reject the union’s plan. The union accepted it this afternoon.

Chief union negotiator John Holland hailed the Colflesh’s decision and called the union’s proposal “reasonable, fair and affordable.”

The school board had previously requested a state fact-finder to issue a settlement report. After the report was issued two years ago, the school board rejected it. That proposal was still on the table, but Dean considers that plan “stale.”

If either side rejects Colflesh’s decision, the parties can continue negotiating. A second strike is essentially off the table because snow days must me made up in time for school to be over by June 30. Another strike could begin next school year.

Board President Estelle Campenni said she directed Superintendent Janet Serino to schedule a meeting with the board, Business Manager Tom Melone and Dean to discuss the matter.

The district proposed a 5-year contract. For 2010-2011, the district proposed step movement only, which is a 2.5 percent increase, with a $500 stipend for top step employees. In 2011-2012, employees would move a step, but do not get paid for that step movement. In 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, the district proposes step movement plus a 0.25 percent salary increase. The final year of the deal, 2014-2015, the district proposed step movement plus 0.50 percent salary increase.

The union proposed a 6-year contract. The first year, 2010-2011, the union’s proposal is the same as the district’s: step movement only (2.5 percent increase) with a $500 stipend for top step employees. In 2011-2012, the union proposes step movement with a stipend of $750 added to the top step employees. In 2012-2013, the union proposes a 0.50 percent increase, plus step movement (2.5 percent) plus an $800 stipend for top step employees. In 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, a 0.75 raise each year is proposed, plus step movement and an $800 stipend each year for top-step workers. In the final year, 2015-2016, the union proposes a 1 percent salary increase, step movement and an $850 stipend for top-step teachers.

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