EXETER — Wyoming Area School District teachers are set to return to work Friday, ending a strike that began Sept. 3, Union Spokesman Paul Shemansky said Monday.
The return to work is mandated by state law, which allows teachers to strike twice in one school year, with the first strike ending in time to ensure the last day of school will be June 15.
“They went to the maximum without impacting the June 15 deadline,” Shemansky said.
Unless there is some settlement by Friday, the stalled contract negotiations will automatically go into non-binding arbitration, in which both sides provide their last best offer to a third party arbiter who, along with reviewing a fact finder’s report previously issued by a neutral third party, will propose an agreement. Both sides must vote on the proposal; if either side rejects it, the effort dies.
A second strike is possible after the arbitration process, but it would be shorter because state law requires it end in time to complete 180 days of school by June 30.
The teachers have worked under terms of an expired contract since August 2010. By law they began negotiating January of that year. The union announced plans to strike two months before Sept 3, but contract talks remained unsettled despite last-minute negotiations, and the strike began as scheduled.
School board lead negotiator attorney Jack Dean and union lead negotiator John Holland met Tuesday, Sept. 24, to discuss issues and exchange new offers, but no formal negotiations have been held since. Both men said the gap has narrowed substantially,with Holland saying several times they were “whiskers away” from an agreement.
The chief sticking point has been teacher raises, particularly since the board dropped an earlier push to have teachers pay part of their health insurance premiums. Dean has also said the board dropped a demand for a “true pay freeze” for the first year of the expired contract (2010-11), and added a small raise that would wipe out a modest budgetary reserve the district currently has.
Holland and union President Melissa Dolman counter the board has basically been shuffling around the same amount of money in each of it’s offers, never actually increasing pay raises.
School had only been in session three days before the strike, and the last day of school had been set for June 10, only three weekdays before the June 15 deadline. By Friday the strike will have eaten up 23 school days. The school board must approve a new calendar and almost certainly will have to eliminate previously scheduled vacation days. Along with various holidays off, the current calendar includes three vacation days for Thanksgiving, eight for Christmas and four for Easter.