(Sept 5) Teachers in 3 Pennsylvania school districts on strike

Gone are the days when teachers stayed on strike until their contracts were settled and school boards could raise taxes to fund the agreements.

Now, it’s not uncommon for negotiations to go far beyond the expiration dates — in some cases several years — before a settlement is reached.

The reason: financial pressures on districts that include drops in state and federal funding, large hikes in pension contributions and state-imposed limits on raising taxes, coupled with a state law governing contract negotiations that has no real teeth.

In Shaler Area, where teachers walked off the job Tuesday, the union has been without a new contract since August 2011. Teachers have gone even longer without a contract in Bethel Park, where the previous pact expired in June 2010.

Two other districts in the state have negotiations dating back to 2010 — Wyoming Area and Old Forge, both outside Scranton. Teachers in those districts also walked off their jobs Tuesday.

State Act 88, which took effect in 1992, requires striking teachers to return to the classrooms by deadlines that ensure students will get their state-mandated 180 days of education. According to the state Department of Education, Shaler teachers must return to the classroom Sept. 24.

The processes the law provides for settling disputes — arbitration and fact finding — are non-binding unless both parties agree at the outset.

“There is nothing that forces a finish,” said Walter Michalski, a staff representative for the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania who participates in the Bethel Park negotiations.

“You have the juxtaposed positions of the teacher associations arguing for industry parity and the districts arguing for local affordability,” said Tom Templeton, assistant executive director for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Find the full article, here: School districts, teachers at a loss for solution to labor strikes Mary Niederberger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/5/13

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