WEST PITTSTON — Technically this was the fourth day of school in the Wyoming Area School District, but for students at Montgomery Avenue Elementary it was basically a second “first day.” A teacher strike shuttered the classrooms Sept. 3, after only three days of lessons.
“He has really bad anxiety” about the start of school, Cara Everett said as her 7-year-old son Noah waited to enter the building Friday morning. And not only was he going through the whole ordeal a second time, “It’s a Friday, and it may just be like the first day again on Monday.”
Asked how he felt about returning, Noah said, “sad.” But his rapidly widening grin suggested otherwise.
“I think he’s glad to get away from the girls,” Cara said with a laugh as she gently rocked her year-old daughter in a stroller while 2-year-old Laila seemed determined to keep heading to the locked Wyoming Avenue entrance.
Students arrived by ones and twos initially, hopping out of cars, arriving by a bike and locking it in a stand, or strolling up with and without parents. By 8:15 a.m. enough of a crowd had gathered to break the silence; chatter erupted. By the time an announcement came over the public address system requesting teachers report to the library, the crowd was substantial and some children had started to scamper around. Many parents looked groggier than their offspring.
Several parents said they were glad the strike was over but voiced concern about a potential second strike in February or March. “I’ve heard they already have a date set,” one said.
By state law, teacher unions can strike twice in one school year.
The first strike must end in time to complete 180 days of school by June 15, which is the deadline that brought this strike to an end Friday. If no settlement is reached, the two sides are then pushed to non-binding arbitration, in which they present their latest offers to a third party who issues a proposal either side can accept or reject.
If both reject it, the proposal dies. A second strike can then be called, but it must end in time to complete 180 days by June 30.
Cara said she was “disappointed” her children will almost certainly lose scheduled holiday breaks that will have to be canceled to make up for the lost days, but added her plight hasn’t been as bad as some parents.
“It didn’t affect me that much because I’m a stay-at-home mom,” she noted. Parents who work had to find arrangements for their children during the strike, something the union dubbed the “parent tax,” referring to money they had to pay for daycare or other arrangements.
Teachers have been working under terms of an expired contract since August 2010, and by law negotiations started January of that year. Union leaders contend the school board has not really changed its offers, only shuffling around the same amount of money with each proposal.
Attorney Jack Dean, the board’s lead negotiator, has said the board made substantial concessions, particularly in recent offers, removing a request for a one-year true pay freeze in favor of a deferred raise, dropping an effort to get teachers to pay part of their health insurance premium, and throwing what little money the district has in reserve into the pot for modest raises in the last proposal.