Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Shaler Parents Scramble to Find Child Care Teachers Strike Displaces Students

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Shaler Parents Scramble to Find Child Care Teachers Strike Displaces Students

Article excerpt

The Northern Area Boys and Girls Club in Millvale expects to be filled today with students who were displaced from their schools because of the Shaler Area teachers strike.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook with parents wanting to know if we can take their kids," club director Suzanne Goetz said Tuesday, which was supposed to be the first day of classes in the Shaler district, which serves about 4,600 students in Shaler, Etna, Millvale and Reserve.

Ms. Goetz had recently closed her summer day program and was preparing for an after-school program with the start of school. But when the teachers union called a strike, she quickly started planning a day program to run for the duration. On Tuesday, she had about 24 students and today she's expecting the number to be closer to 40.

Shaler's 380 teachers decided to strike Tuesday after a five- hour negotiation session on Monday failed to yield a contract agreement.

According to the state Department of Education, the strike must end in time for students to return to class on Sept. 24. That is the date that would allow the district to complete the school year by June 15 as required by state law.

The teachers have worked without a new contract since August 2011 and announced in June they would strike if there was no new agreement by the first day of school.

The two sides will be back at the bargaining table tonight at 6, and Melissa Ravas, president of the Shaler Area Education Association, said the talks will move forward only if the district brings forth a new offer.

She said the union made an offer last week and expected to discuss it on Monday but no such discussions took place. "We're hoping for someone to respond other than to say 'no,' " Mrs. Ravas said.

Superintendent Wesley Shipley, in a statement on the district website, said the negotiating team "explored solutions which exceeded the authority provided by the entire school board" but were still unable to meet the union's demands for salary and health care contributions. Those two items, in addition to workload issues, remain the sticking points in the negotiations.

In an interview, Mr. Shipley said there was a "substantial gap" between the parties with regard to salary and that it would be "shortsighted" not to consider the effect it would have on taxpayers. "You can't have a contract that would totally deplete [the district's] fund balance," Mr. Shipley said. Negotiating sessions are also set for Sept. 9 and 16.

Statistics kept by the state Department of Education show that Shaler's 2012-13 average teacher salary of $56,362 is the seventh lowest among the 43 districts in the county. The countywide average for 2012-13 was $67,862. According to fact-finding reports from 2011 and 2013, salaries for Shaler teachers range from $39,359 for a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree to $86,852 for a teacher with a master's degree at the top of the 19-step salary scale. …

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