Teachers in seven school districts across Allegheny County are working without contracts and while some districts say negotiations have been amicable and are close to producing a deal, others report little progress and say they moving closer to a strike.
Teachers in Bethel Park, Duquesne, East Allegheny, Hampton, Pine- Richland, Shaler and South Allegheny are working under the terms of expired contracts, with salary and benefits among the chief issues, union leaders said.
Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Butch Santicola, whose group represents all of the bargaining units except Bethel Park, said decreased money to school districts and a slow economy are contributing to the number of bargaining units without contracts. All of the districts are in negotiations, he said.
"Prior to the gubernatorial election and the economic downturn this would be a lot," Santicola said. "In the recent past, no."
Negotiations in Shaler Area appear to be among the most contentious. Members of the teachers union this week authorized their leaders to call a strike. The union would have to give the district 48-hours' notice of a walkout.
Shaler teachers have been without a contract since Aug. 15, 2011. Union and district officials have been meeting since January 2011.
Melissa Ravas, president of the 380-member teachers union, criticized school board President Jim Giel in a new release this week, saying he and the board have "disrespected" the teachers.
"We remain willing to do our part, but the board is not willing to do its part. Jim Giel wants the teachers to do all the heavy lifting so that he can stall the bargain process and attempt to make us look bad," Ravas said.
Giel said he's only one of nine board members.
"Seventy percent of the taxpayers in the district don't have kids in school. I have a lot of senior citizens that don't want to lose their homes. That fear is always there," he said.
The Bethel Park teachers union went on strike for six weeks in fall 2010 and is still without a contract.
"We continue to meet with the state-appointed mediator, and we're trying to solve problems with the district," said Walt Michalski, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers of Pennsylvania, which represents Bethel Park teachers. "This year, we're still committed to resolving this at the table."
Michalski said sticking points are class sizes, prep time, salary and health care, and teaching additional classes.
Michalski put some blame on Gov. Tom Corbett's budget, which he said cut money for education.
Tim Eller, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, disputed that money has been cut. …