DALLAS TWP. — Lisa Ayers wants both the Dallas School Board and the teachers union to realize how bad the now-weeklong strike has hurt families.
“I lost two months of income last year when the teachers went on strike, and here we are again,” Ayers, a mother of two, said at a taxpayers rally Friday. “I want my kids back in school.”
The demonstration organized by Joanna Cunningham was held from 10 a.m. to noon outside the doors of the Dallas School District administration building.
Teachers were picketing on nearby Conyngham Avenue, within view of the more than 25 parents and residents who had gathered.
The taxpayers came to urge both the school board and the union to enter binding arbitration, end the strike and support House Bill 920, which would outlaw teacher strikes in Pennsylvania.
Binding arbitration requires a neutral third-party mediator to review contract proposals from both sides and create a deal that both sides are obligated to enact.
“This is a rally for change,” Cunningham told attendees.
She also has spearheaded a petition to support the strike-free legislation. She has acquired over 1,400 signatures so far.
If approved, House Bill 920 would make contract proposals public before school and union leaders vote; require both parties to enter non-binding arbitration after a designated number of days; and give teachers opposed to going on strike the ability to work.
The bill is available at www.legiscan.com/PA/text/HB920/2017.
‘Tired of high taxes’
Back Mountain senior citizens Judy and Paul Donlin came out not only to support the bill but to urge the union to be more receptive to sharing some of the cost of health care premiums.
“We are tired of paying high taxes,” Judy said, adding her children graduated from Dallas and their grandchildren are now enrolled in the district.
Contract offers traded between the school board and union are stuck on issues such as health care, salary, pensions, and early retirement.
District proposals contain a health care premium contribution, while the union’s offers contain higher deductibles and co-pays with no premium sharing.
Friday’s demonstrators kept their promise not to target either side in the labor dispute.
Their signs had messages that stated: “Make PA Strike-Free State,” “Arbitration Now!” and “Help students get back in school.”
The group walked through the parking lot in front of the administration building and Wycallis Elementary School while one member yelled: “What do we want?”
The group answered in unison: “End the strike!”
“When do we want it?
‘Makes Dallas strong’
Teachers walking on Conyngham Avenue occasionally looked at the citizens group, but no verbal or visible reaction was observed.
Michael Cherinka, president of the Dallas Education Association, said some teachers voiced “initial concerns” when they heard about the taxpayer rally.
He did reach out to Cunningham, who assured him the demonstration was designed to be peaceful.
“I am aware they (parents and taxpayers) want to have a resolution, and I applaud them for that,” Cherinka said. “I made an offer that I would be available today to answer any of their questions.”
Taxpayers’ voices were heard inside the administration building as well.
“Everyone has the right to be heard,” Dallas Superintendent Thomas Duffy said.
Duffy was relieved the citizens did not focus on criticizing one side or the other.
“At some point, we will have a contract and be back in school,” Duffy said. “The relationships between parents and teachers is what makes Dallas strong.”
Duffy said the district’s negotiation team would be meeting later Friday, but at this point, there are no meetings scheduled with the union.
Cherinka said union leaders are planning to reach out to the district soon unless the district contacts them first.
The union’s contract expired in August 2015.
The teachers started their strike Sept. 22, and the state Department of Education says they must return to work Oct. 19.
In November 2016, teachers conducted a 22-day strike that extended the 2016-17 school year until June 30.