A Strike to Kickoff the Next School Year

"’Strike’ shall mean a concerted action in failing to report for duty, the willful absence from one’s position, the stoppage of work, slowdown or the abstinence in whole or in part from the full, faithful, and proper performance of the duties of employment for the purposes of inducing, influencing or coercing a change in the conditions or compensation or the rights, privileges, or obligations of employment…" Section 1101-A, Act 88 of 1992

The 2012-13 school year might have been the first year since the 1970s that Pennsylvania did not have a school strike-the determination on whether a dispute in the Old Forge District in northeastern PA is still unresolved as to whether it was a strike or a lockout. Right now, as it is summer break, there is no classroom instruction happening in the districts around the state. That includes the Shaler Area School District, which, come September, may be on an extended summer vacation as the teachers’ union has already given notice that no contract means no work. The school board accepted and the union rejected the fact-finder’s report that came as part of the negotiation process that began in January 2011. Shaler had a three day strike in the 1997-98 school year.

Defenders of the teachers are probably bowled over by how magnanimous the union is being–after all, Act 88 requires only a 48 hour notice of a strike and here the school board and the parents have been given more than two months notice. They would implore the members of the school board to get back to the drawing board and get things right so as to avoid a stoppage. After all, they have had two and a half years and the teachers did not follow though with a strike authorization they made in November of 2012.

But the early strike notice gives teachers an opportunity to spend some or all of their summer expressing their distaste with the contract situation. Even though it would not be a strike in the most proper terms, teachers could mill around the outside the schools from now until the beginning of September from early morning until late afternoon to keep parents and school board members aware of what things would look like should a strike occur. Since teachers do not deem it a great imposition to disrupt parents’ and students’ plans for summer vacation-or even Christmas Holidays- then perhaps the families of teachers won’t mind if the teachers launch a pre-emptive summer protest demonstration that lasts several weeks.

Strike Two!

As we wrote in a blog earlier this year, the Neshaminy School District in southeastern Pennsylvania had a teacher strike, the first in the 2011-12 school year. As of Monday, teachers in that District walked out on the picket lines again, (first time was in January) and they are allowed to stay out until next Friday the 15th so as to leave enough time to complete 180 days before the end of June per state law.

The board and the teachers’ union are still working on a contract that expired in June of 2008. It is important to look at the "three e’s" of the District, all obtained through the most recent CAFR, that show what has happened in recent years.

Enrollment-it has fallen since 2002, about 11%, and stands at just over 8,500.

Employment-it has also fallen since 2002, but at a slower pace than enrollment (7%).

Expenditures-are up 33% since 2002.

That means per pupil expenditures in the District have grown significantly in the last decade, but as with many negotiations the issues of pensions and health benefits are center stage. Taxpayers don’t want to pony up more for benefits in a district where the median salary is over $89,000, even though union officials have suggested a tax increase is one way to go toward ending the impasse.

Day of Bizarre Education Stories

Man bites dog. The headline every reporter is salivating to use. Well, there is now a perfect opportunity courtesy of the Bethel Park School District. Parents are protesting teachers who are on strike. Not just taxpayers, but parents whom teachers normally count on to defend union demands and urge the Board to cave.

This is big news. Too bad it has taken so long for this to happen. Perhaps the parents will begin to consider supporting state office candidates who will vote to eliminate the right of teachers to strike. Still, if more parents and other taxpayers will join in and set an example, there is a chance such protests will spread and begin to undermine the teacher union belief that there are no consequences to walking off the job.

Then there was the report of City Council honoring Superintendent Roosevelt as he prepares to depart to head up a completely failed educational institution as opposed to the Pittsburgh Schools that are barely holding on to any semblance of respectability that he has decided to abandon. What a joke. Spending per student has risen above $20,000 under Roosevelt, enrollment is still falling despite the Promise Program and 11th graders have shown no improvement in academic achievement. Other than that he has been just swell as superintendent.

Of course City Council’s governance of the City gives them no standing to honor actual examples of superior performance, or for that matter an example of adequate performance. How would they know the difference?

District in the Strike Zone

The website of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) states it as clear as day: "no local associations are on strike at this time". The website of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) likewise does not report any work stoppages for the current school year. But the Allegheny Valley School District in northeastern Allegheny County could be the first in the state to see its teachers go on strike.

"We have not given notice, although things are bad-really bad-at this point" said the head of the PSEA. The school board and the teachers’ union have both indicated they will not budge on their positions. A fact finding report would have meant that the average teacher salary of $56,000 would have risen to $63,419 by the final year of the four year contract.

Note that Allegheny Valley’s school tax rate has increased 30% from 2003 to 2010, faster than the average increase for districts in Allegheny County (17%). Think taxpayers in the district want to hear about the complaints of the teachers’ union about unfair contracts, pay levels, or having to contribute to health care costs?

When will Pennsylvania opt to remove itself from the small group of states that permit teacher strikes and end its position as the perennial leader of such stoppages?