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Only two Allegheny County districts still in teacher contract talks

Monday, September 02, 2002

By Jane Elizabeth, Post-Gazette Education Writer

When Shaler Area and Hampton Township school districts approved tentative contracts late last week, the school labor landscape in the region became one of the most tranquil in recent history.

Now, with many school districts opening to students tomorrow, only two Allegheny County districts, Allegheny Valley and Riverview, are still negotiating teacher contracts.

Online chart:
Strike statistics



Statewide, only one district has gone on strike this school year. Teachers in the 2,000-student North Schuylkill School District walked out last Monday when talks broke down after 20 months of negotiations.

Around 150 of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts are at some point in their contract deliberations, according to Wythe Keever, Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesperson.

In Western Pennsylvania, Brownsville Area and Somerset Area are the only other school districts, besides Allegheny Valley and Riverview, in which teachers and boards are still negotiating.

Last year at this time, around 15 districts in the region were negotiating; the year before, the number was 12.

"It looks like a really light year," said American Federation of Teachers spokeswoman Janet Bass. "For K-12, we're not seeing any big problems at all."

The PSEA, the state branch of the National Education Association, is the state's largest teachers union. The American Federation of Teachers represents teachers in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and other urban districts.

Last year, teachers in seven school districts statewide went on strike; 10 years earlier, the number was two dozen.

During 1970-82, there were 550 teacher strikes. Between 1990 and 2002, there were 181.

The decline in walkouts can be attributed to Act 88, a law implemented in 1992 that limits teachers' ability to strike.

The law was designed to help teachers unions and school officials reach settlements without striking by using fact-finding, nonbinding arbitration or a mediator.

If there is a strike, teachers must end it in time for students to receive 180 days of instruction by June 15. Second strikes are required to end in time for students to receive 180 days of classes by June 30.

This school year, most districts that are still in negotiations are discussing contracts that expired during the previous school year. Somerset teachers are in their third year of negotiations, however.

At least a half-dozen districts with teacher contracts that expire during the 2002-03 school year have reached early-bird settlements, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

In districts that are still negotiating, much of the delay can be attributed to health care costs, according to union officials.

Don Morabito, arbitrator for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, said health care costs are ultimately a salary issue.

"The driving force in most impasses is, in fact, dollars, and the driving force in the impasse over dollars is the rising cost of health care," he said.

As schools are forced to pay ever-increasing amounts for medical and prescription coverage, less money is available to pay for salary increases and other benefits, Morabito said.

Salary and the length of the work year also are being discussed in many Pennsylvania districts, said Keever.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jane Elizabeth can be reached at jelizabeth@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.

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