Teachers, board remain divided on contract

Shawn Hardy

The Greencastle-Antrim Education Association and the Greencastle-Antrim School Board are still split on the terms of a teachers contract after a second round of votes last week.

As they did the previous week, the teachers union voted to accept the recommendations of a fact-finder’s report, which the school board rejected. The teachers have voted overwhelmingly to walk out if need be over the impasse that comes after almost a year of negotiations.

“We had hoped that the school board would support us and reconsider, but we decided we needed to be prepared ahead of time,” Ellen Kirkner, a Greencastle-Antrim High School social studies teacher and president of the 180.5-member G-AEA, said in a news release issued by the Pennsylvania State Education Association. “So, we asked members for a strike authorization vote. Our teachers have spoken loud and clear that we are ready to strike if it becomes necessary.”

The strike authorization means that the bargaining team will be able to call a strike at any time, as long as it provides the district with the legally mandated 48-hour notice.

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith,” according to Brandon Solomon, a high school English teacher and G-AEA’s chief negotiator, “because a strike is the last thing anybody wants. But, as the report made clear, the district’s demands for salary freezes, reduced starting salaries and changes to health care benefits means teachers pay would not even keep up with the cost of living.”

Eric Holtzman, lead negotiator for the school board, said another bargaining session has not yet been scheduled, largely because of the holidays.

Teachers have been working since Aug. 31 under the terms of their expired contract, according to the PSEA release. The negotiating teams met 11 times before reaching an impasse and bringing in a state-appointed mediator. After they reached another impasse, teachers requested fact finding in October. The report was issued at the end of November, accepted by the teachers on Dec. 6 and rejected by the board on Dec. 7. Per protocol, both groups voted again after a cooling-off period and the result was the same.

The fact finder’s report, available on the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board website, recommends small salary increases for four years of the contract and minimal changes to teachers’ health-care plan. The recommended salary increases are affordable, according to the report, because of the district’s solid financial standing and growing fund balance, the PSEA release says.

The fact finder’s recommendation includes base salary increases affected by factors including educational levels and years of service. The proposed increases and costs to the district are: 2.87 percent or $365,109 for 2017-18; 2.79 percent or $364,603 for 2018-19; 2.96 percent or $397,689 for 2019-2020; and 2.96 percent or $409,780 for 2020-21.

A release from the school board’s attorney Michael King notes the fact-finder’s report indicates G-A has the highest starting, average and career salaries in Franklin County. The district also has the highest tax rate in the county, according to King.

Holtzman called the recommendations in the fact-finder “fiscally irresponsible from both a short-term and long-term perspective” in his motion to reject the report on Dec. 7.

“It would require additional tax revenue of $1,405,000.00 for increased wages, plus an additional $590,000 for pension contribution and payroll taxes,” according to King.

The board proposes to freeze salaries for 2017-18 and 2018-19; implement a lower starting salary in 2018-19; and offer step increases in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

“The school board points out Greencastle-Antrim teachers are the highest paid in Franklin County. This is true. But the district misses the bigger points from the fact-finder’s contract recommendations,” Kirkner said. 

“We want to remind the school board that many people move to the Greencastle-Antrim communities because of the quality education that their children receive here. But great schools don’t just happen in a vacuum. They’re because of great teachers.”