Walk-out planned April 4 in contract dispute

Shawn Hardy

The Greencastle-Antrim Education Association has set a strike date of April 4 if a tentative contract is not reached by then.

Members of the teachers union gave the strike authorization in December and the negotiating team announced the date after another round of unproductive bargaining talks with the school district Monday night, according to a news release from the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

“We hope to be able to reach a tentative agreement before a strike actually occurs,” Ellen Kirkner, president of the 181-member G-AEA and high school social studies teacher, said in the press release. “As educators, we are proud of our school district and we care very much about our students. If the Greencastle-Antrim School District wants to maintain its reputation for providing a quality education to the community’s children and retaining highly effective professional staff, the district needs to continue to invest in its educators.”

Unless a tentative agreement with the school board is reached before April 4, the district’s 181 teachers and professional educators — working under the terms of the expired contract since Aug. 31 — will be walking the picket line. The association has asked for modest pay increases which were supported by a neutral fact finder who determined that the school district could afford them, the news release said.

The school district had not issued a formal response to the strike date by press time. However, after the school board rejected the fact-finder's report in December, a statement prepared by the law firm Stock and Leader, called the recommendations fiscally irresponsible, noting G-A has the highest salaries in Franklin County as well as the highest tax rate.

"Unfortunately, he (the fact-finder) proceeded to completely disregard these facts in his evaluation of the competing proposals and, instead, made recommendations that can only result in even greater disparity between Greencastle's salaries and tax rates as compared to other districts in the county," the statement said.

*** From the teachers ***

In the news release, Kirkner noted that the district has the lowest cost per student ratio among all Franklin County school districts and said that teacher salaries as a percentage of total instructional costs have decreased more than 5 percent over the past five years.

The teachers and the district have been negotiating for almost a year without reaching a contract agreement. The negotiating teams met 11 times before reaching an impasse and bringing in a state-appointed mediator. After mediation failed to break the impasse, the association requested fact finding. The fact-finder issued his report at the end of November.

The fact finder is a neutral third-party appointed by the state to review the facts of contract bargaining and issue an impartial report.

Teachers have twice accepted the fact-finder’s report, which calls for modest salary increases for four years of the contract and minimal changes to the teachers’ health-care plan, PSEA said. The recommended salary increases are affordable, according to the report, because of the district’s solid financial standing.

The school board has twice rejected the fact-finder’s report and has not moved from its initial proposal of salary freezes for teachers.

“Unfortunately, at this time, it looks like a strike will be necessary,” said Brandon Solomon, a high school English teacher and G-AEA’s chief negotiator. “We have been trying to work with the school board to reach a settlement that is fair to our hard-working teachers and that would enable the district to retain the best professional staff for the benefit of our students and the community.”