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South Butler teachers begin strike, new talks have yet to be scheduled

March 29, 2018

Bundled up against the elements in winter coats, hats and scarves, South Butler teachers the hit the picket lines Thursday morning to protest failed contract negotiations.

Teachers marched in large groups, or sometimes by twos or threes, brandishing colorful signs that sported phrases such as “Money well spent ... EDUCATION”; “We respect your profession, why do you disrespect ours?”; “Kids Matter, Teachers Care”; “Four years too late;” and “Why can every other school district figure out a contract except Knoch?”

They remained in front of Knoch High School until about 1 p.m. A few drivers honked as the teachers walked down Knoch and Dinnerbell roads, talking among themselves.

“We’ve been bargaining for 41⁄2 years,” said Brooke Witt, labor consultant for the teachers union as the teachers picketed. “We’ve been working really hard to try to get a deal together — that hasn’t happened. The teachers are very united at this point.

“This will be some teachers’ fifth strike in their career, which is a lot.”

This is the district’s fifth teachers strike in the last 40 years.

Witt said the strike was called after the district submitted “no new proposals” during a negotiation session Wednesday night.

District Solicitor Thomas Breth said the school board presented its “best offer” Tuesday night, but the teachers union did not come back with a counter-offer Wednesday. Witt said the union, through a mediator, gave the district an offer Wednesday night, and asked to continue negotiations. She said it declined.

“They issued a ‘final best’ and have not continued to engage in the negotiation process with us,” Witt said.

The main sticking points

The parties have been divided on issues such as the length of the contract, wages and health care coverage. Pay and health insurance costs are the primary points of contention.

The median salary for a teacher in Pennsylvania in 2016 was $64,320, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average salary for a teacher at the South Butler district, based on the 2013-14 pay scale, is $55,880.

The teachers insist there’s enough money in the district’s $8 million-plus fund balance to increase pay and keep the teachers’ contributions to their health insurance lower.

They also are seeking full retroactive raises dating to mid-2014.

The school district is unwilling to do either.

“The district solicitor has said we failed to compromise,” Witt said. “We’ve comprised on every issue. Almost everything that the district is asking for is a reduction of the current benefit that we have in the contract, and we’ve agreed to work them on those issues.”

Breth pointed to the fact that the teachers requested two neutral fact-finding reports and rejected both of them, and also haven’t given the district their “final best offer.”

“Their actions speak louder than their words,” he said.

Strike’s limit to be determined

Notice of the strike has been sent to the Department of Education, which will let the teachers know when they must to return to school. The 168 union members must return by a date that will allow the students to receive 180 days of class instruction by June 15.

A date for the next negotiation session had not been set as of Thursday.

A statement on the district’s website informs parents that due to the strike, school will not be in session until further notice. It says updates will be posted as they become available and families will be notified by a call system when school resumes.

Class days needed to make up missed time will be announced later.

The district indicated earlier that it will continue to provide transportation for students enrolled in nonpublic special education outside the district, vocational school and alternative programs.

All athletic and other district events will be held as scheduled.

Witt said the teachers will resume picketing Monday morning and asked that the community continue offering support. On Wednesday, The South Butler School Action Committee conducted a “Heal Our Community” rally to urge a fair settlement of the dispute.

“We’re hoping that the community rallies behind us, understands how dedicated we’ve been to get a contract and hope that the board comes together hearing what the community has said, and give(s) the teachers (their) respect,” Witt said.

Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, mczebiniak@tribweb.com or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.