Teachers take salary freeze during school budget crisis

PAT FRIDGEN

Following 75 minutes of discussion behind closed doors, the Greencastle-Antrim Board of School Directors returned to its June 2 meeting to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the teachers' union. With two board members dissenting, the directors agreed to a three year contract with the Greencastle-Antrim Education Association, calling for no wage increase the first year, and two percent raises in 2012-13 and 2013-2014. The agreement is expected to save the district $600,000 the first year, said board president Joel Fridgen, with the deficit trimmed to around $400,000. The board will continue to look at ways to shave that number before the final budget is passed June 16.

Fridgen, Melinda Cordell, Mike Shindle, Kristy Faulkner, Paul Politis and William Thorne voted yes to the package; Eric Holtzman and Brian Hissong voted no. Howard Ritchey was absent.

"We all appreciate the effort they (G-AEA) put in to come to the table," said superintendent Dr. C. Gregory Hoover.

Fridgen chorused the sentiment. "The faculty understands the state of the economy. They were willing to make adjustments to help us."

G-AEA president Alison McKissick said in a written statement, "This was the right thing to do. We care about this school district and the kids that we teach, so we are prepared to make sacrifices so that our students don't have to."

Their action falls in line with what Pennsylvania State Education Association president Jim Testerman asked of public educators on March 16, "to seriously consider" a one-year salary freeze.

Details of the agreement

The MOU supplants the final year of a five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement, set to expire at the end of the next school year, in regard to salary. However, the other details of that contract remain in effect. It also negates an MOU signed June 4, 2008 by Hoover, McKissick and former school board president Daniel Fisher, after G-AEA filed grievances when the district moved deans of students into assistant principal positions, and put a reading coordinator into an administrative role. The union lost six bargaining unit positions as a result.

The 2008 MOU said no professional positions would be eliminated due to reduction in force or elimination of programs through June 2013. It named 35 teaching positions in the primary school, 39 in the elementary, 45 in the middle and 55 in the high school.

The 2011 MOU says the teachers will pay the same dollar amount toward health insurance premiums as this past year, and in the next two years will pay 7 percent and 8 percent respectively. The board will pay a one-time $25,000 incentive next year for teachers retiring under normal conditions as required by the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System. Also, if the district finds itself with a surplus after next year's audit, it will put the extra money into the PSERS account.

As a result of the negotiations between the school board and teachers, the following employee positions will not be affected: one high school social studies spot, the K-4 computer instructor, five kindergarten aides, the middle school technology aide, primary and elementary aides, elementary instructional support aide and elementary reading aide, the latter both paraprofessionals. The board will also not furlough or demote any teachers during the next three years, but this clause does not affect positions unfilled after retirements or resignations.

Leadership team offer

The administrators also offered to forego a raise for 2011-2012. Last year they accepted a 2 percent raise rather than the 3.5 percent stated in their three-year contract, and now agreed a salary freeze was in order. Hoover for the second year in a row volunteered to take no pay raise. The number of administrators is currently 11, down from 13 three years ago. The position held by Mary Frey was not filled after her death in 2008. The duties of assistant principal Ron Powers were assimilated by others when he resigned in 2010.

The approval of the salary agreement with the administrators passed 7-1, with Faulkner opposing. The three-year superintendent contract passed unanimously.

Budget still under review

The G-AEA concession dropped the salary expense, not including benefits, from $12,464,664 to $11,775,237 in 2011-2012. The board approved a preliminary budget on April 21 showing revenues of $32,114,549 and expenditures of $33,368,714. In May the board released a list of potential cuts to balance the budget, including: eliminate 30 support staff positions and middle school extracurriculars; not replace four retiring teachers or one retiring support staff; no pay increase for superintendent, administrators, supervisors, exempt staff, or support staff; no purchase of textbooks;

restructure district library; eliminate Title I summer reading program; reduce custodial staff by two through retirement; adjust medical insurance costs; reduce maintenance, wages for bus down time, supplies, repairs and software; remove debt service for building project; and reduce equipment repairs, contracted services, legal fees and electricity and natural gas usage.

Business manager Richard Lipella said the new employee contracts reduced the deficit and the district would look for more cuts or use fund balances to even out the budget.