As expected, 415 teachers in the Penn Hills School District are on strike today. They've been working without a contract since August 31. An emergency bargaining session was called by a state mediator last night and failed to resolve the dispute. Butch Santicola of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) says the session lasted from 6:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. and there was little if any progress.
The dispute centers around salary and health benefits. The school board has indicated that the teachers' union's demands would mean a tax hike. Santicola denies that "even if they gave us everything we initially asked for there would be no tax increase. We are not asking for anything that would cause a problem for the taxpayers of Penn Hills."
District negotiator Bruce Campbell says Santicola is wrong....."the (Penn Hills) Education Association at the bargaining table has repeatedly said the district should have a tax increase if necessary to fund the demands teachers have....there's no question about that."
Campbell says the Penn Hills District has the 7th highest tax rate in the state and many residents are elderly and on fixed incomes and cannot afford a tax increase.
The district has offered graduated salary increases in years 3 to 5 of a new contract of 1 to 3%.
In addition, the school district wants to change and increase the teachers' share of health care premium costs. Currently, 1.2% of their pay goes toward health benefits. The district's proposal is for teachers to pay 4% of the actual premium cost in the second year of the 5 year contract and that would increase to 7% by the final year of the pact.
Santicola says there is some confusion as to how long the strike can last, but that will be decided by the state. The walkout can either go through February 11th or 12th.
Another bargaining session is scheduled for tomorrow. Santicola says he always has hope but "realistically, I don't think it will be resolved."