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Last updated: April 23. 2014 2:26PM - 1478 Views
By Jon O'Connell joconnell@civitasmedia.com



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EXETER —It began with harmony.
 
Four members of the Wyoming Area Guitar Ensemble prefaced Tuesday night's regular school board meeting playing selections from their repertoire — an example of their hard work for the school district's education board that roused a standing ovation.
 
The meeting followed suit at first.
 
But the discussion turned to discord when it came to light that the Wyoming Area Education Association, the teachers union, would be bringing the same contract recommended by a neutral arbiter and rejected by the School Board earlier this month to the negotiating table.
 
The union and the school board are to meet to negotiate again May 8.
 
The teachers union has been working on terms of an expired contract since 2010, with a handful of items, including salary step increases, health care options and length of contract (six years vs. the district's proposed five years) the main sources of dissonance.
 
The arbiter, Ralph Colflesh of the American Arbitration Association, ruled April 8 that the board should accept the union contract, though in his report, he said neither contract is desirable; however, Colflesh said the union contract is the lesser of two evils.
 
Either side has the ability to reject the arbiter's recommendation.
 
Teachers union President MelissaDolman addressed the board for the first time since last week's special meeting, after which she and about 100 teachers left the auditorium announcing the union was to strike for one day because the board had just unanimously rejected the arbiter's recommendation.
 
Dolman on Tuesday said U.S. New and World Report had just announced the year's top public schools. Wyoming Area High School ranks 56th out of 598 Pennsylvania public schools; that's a five-position improvement from last year.
 
“It shows what our teachers are doing,” Dolman said. “We must have given more for us to do better.”
 
But Dolman said teachers under the old system, after eight years in the district, earn less than what is considered average for a middle-class family.
 
“You have our livelihoods in your hands, basically,” Dolman said.
 
School Board President Estelle Campenni told roughly 80 people in the room that the board wants to give the teachers their due.
 
“None of us is questioning the competency of our teachers,” Campenni said, but she explained the board's responsibility is to everyone who lives in the district.
 
“We don't just represent the nine people sitting on this board. We represent all the taxpayers in the school district,” Campenni said.
 
The School Board has maintained for the last four years that the union contract demands will send the district's general fund into a deficit.
 
Although the arbiter recommended the union contract, it is still untenable, the district's business consultant, Tom Melone, said during the meeting.
 
“It's very easy to choose A, B or C, but he didn't give me any solution on how to make it work,” Melone said.
 
But the union has taken great strides to make concessions on its version of the contract, and the members do not want to disregard the adjustments it has already made, Dolman said.
 
“It's been offered over and over … and I feel like we've already gone down to bare bones,” Dolman said. “It's difficult to wash that away.”

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