First Posted: 4/17/2014
After their union requested a fact-finding report from the state Labor Relations Board, teachers in the Abington Heights School District have returned to offering some services they had previously withheld due to an ongoing contract dispute.
“Specifically, we’re going to return to writing letters of recommendation,” Abington Heights Education Association President Jim Maria said after the April 16 monthly business meeting. “Field trips during the day are certainly back on the table and we’re making ourselves available outside of the school day, before and after school. That was something we had stepped away from. Those are the issues that seem to be most crucial at this time period.”
With college early admission deadlines looming, juniors met with the administration to express their concerns on lack of recommendations.
“I along with the other students, met continuously with higher members of administration to discuss the urgent matter,” junior class vice president Matthew Klucher said. “We reiterate our stance on the conflict between the board and union. We’re going to take neither side and politely request that the student body not be used as pawns and ulterior motives.
“On behalf of the junior class, I want to express my utmost respect and gratitude to the board and union for its commitment to respecting student neutrality in this difficult negotiations. We just hope for a speedy and cordial conclusion.”
Maria is hopeful the report will meet the demands of both sides and bring an end to a labor battle that started at the end of the 2011 school year.
“When the fact-finder report comes back and both sides vote on it, hopefully this will all be a moot point and we’ll have a contract,” he said, “however we’ll have to reconsider what our volunteer activities are at that point.”
The fact-finding hearing is scheduled for Monday, May 5 and the decision must be rendered within 10 days after that date . Within 50 days from April 10, both sides will have had to have voted on it and obtained some form of resolution, Abington Heights Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Mahon said.
According to Maria, the request was made to help move along contract negotiations.
“In all honesty, we didn’t want to wait until June 30 to return to the bargaining table,” he said. “It was just too long. That was as soon as the board was available, I think mostly because their solicitor, John Audi, is a busy man. We wanted to encourage the process a little bit, we couldn’t wait 12 weeks.”
According to Abington Heights School Board President Cathy Ann Hardaway, The Abington Heights School District submitted to fact-finding two years ago.
“It was enlightening to us as a board to hear our administration pull together the different elements of our proposal,” Hardaway said. “I look forward to it, once again”
While the public will not be allowed to be present during the fact-finding process, Hardaway said the results will be posted on the district’s website.
“The goal is to have a contract that is in the best interest of the school district, teachers, students, and tax payers,” she said. “We will continue to work toward that to the best of our abilities.”
According to Treasurer Louise Brzuchalski, an arbitrator will take both proposals and craft what they believe to be a fair proposal, then both sides will vote . Both have to agree for it to become a contract.
“Last time, the board approved it, but the teacher’s union didn’t,” Hardaway said.
In other news, the board voted, 9-0, to accept the bid of Chewlewski Enterprises of $49,087 for drainage installation at the junior varsity soccer field at Abington Heights High School.
“We thought it was going to come in at about $75,000,” Mahon said. “This is far below expectations. I think there was a very thoughtful approach in the bidding process that had incentives for people to offer lower bids.”
Brzuchalski questioned the reasons for a spike in instructional costs, even with a reduced staff and no salary increases.
“Salaries from the 2012-13 to 2013-14 school year are down by about $150,000,” Business Manager James Mirabelli said. “Benefits, including health insurance and retirements are up roughly $1.2 million in the same categories.”
Mahon recognized the effect rising healthcare costs are having on the district’s ability to function efficiently.
“You cut payroll, which is professional staff, by two percent and your bill goes up a million dollars,” he said. “That’s the problem we’re facing.”