EXETER — Wyoming Area School District teachers showed up in full force outside the secondary center Wednesday morning, walking a picket line with the temperature in the 20s while seniors inside participated in life-after-high-school lessons intended to keep graduation on June 13.
Toting an ice coffee despite the abrupt April chill, Wyoming Area Education Association President Melissa Dolman said the union decided to bring all teachers out for four hours in front of the high school, rather than split in two 4-hour shifts in front of Montgomery Avenue Elementary, after learning seniors would be attending sessions today.
Inside, students spent about three hours and 45 minutes with administrators “exposing them to some college and career environment situations, as well as helping them to learn some job interview skills, resume skills” and related training, Superintendent Janet Serino said.
Dolman said the strike was prompted by the school board’s unanimous vote Tuesday night to reject an arbitration ruling in the 4-year-old contract dispute. State law required the two sides to go into non-binding arbitration following a month-long strike at the beginning of the school last September.
Under the law, both sides submitted their last best offers and the arbiter picked one. In this case, he chose the union’s offer, which the school board insists would require a big tax increase.
The two sides have not held a formal negotiation session since the start of the first strike. Dolman said the three sticking points are still the same: Salary increases, health care coverage and length of the contract. She said after last night’s meeting the board proposed another round of talks on April 23.
“My counter offer was: Why not meet today?” Dolman said, meaning Wednesday. She said she was told the district’s business manager Tom Melone had to run through some more numbers before meeting.
State law allows teachers to strike twice in one school year. The first strike must end in time for students to complete 180 days of school by June 15. The second strike must end in time for students to complete 180 days by June 30. The long winter and frequent cancellations due to snow wiped out almost all remaining days after the first strike at Wyoming Area, even after eliminating most vacation days.
The district expects to keep graduation on June 13 through a waiver from the state, Serino said. Seniors were already brought in one Saturday, April 5, for several hours and will come in two more Saturdays.
Serino said she has talked with state officials and expects a waiver will be granted allowing seniors to graduate June 13 even though the last day of school is now June 30, thanks to Wednesday’s strike. The three Saturdays plus Wednesday’s session make up for four missed days.