District Proposes Two-year Contract, Wage Freeze To Scranton Teachers
By Sarah Hofius Hall
Jan. 22, 2018
The Scranton School District wants its teachers to accept a two-year contract that freezes salaries, increases workload and eliminates extra pay.
As the district attempts to find a way to balance its 2018 budget and reduce the estimated $40 million deficit, teachers work under a contract that expired in August. The budget that the board passed in December included a $3.5 million shortfall and a call for saving $1 million by laying off teachers. A plan by administration included 89 teacher layoffs.
With its financial watch status from the state, the district has an additional three months to balance the budget. Directors must vote on a balanced spending plan by April 1.
The district’s latest offer, according to a union email obtained by The Times-Tribune, includes:
n Freezing salaries for the length of the two-year contract.
n Capping dental insurance policies at $2,500 and having the district self-fund up to $5,000. No maximum exists now.
n Introducing a “step generic” pharmacy plan, which requires a patient to try first the lowest cost generic prescription available for a condition. A specific generic or brand name drug can be obtained with a doctor’s order.
n Eliminating payments for class coverages. Teachers are paid $22.50 per hour when they are pulled from their planning periods to cover classes without substitutes.
n Not offering salary movements for teacher-run professional development classes, called ER&D. Teachers receive raises depending on the number of credits obtained.
n Requiring secondary teachers to teach six periods a day instead of five. Class times would be shortened and length of classes adjusted to allow for a preparation period. Administration said 82 teachers, instead of 89, would be laid off with this change.
n Prohibiting teachers from accumulating or carrying over sick days.
n Changing the bid process for moving to other jobs by limiting it to the area of certification to which a teacher was hired. Bidding from one area to another would be terminated. Current teachers could apply for jobs with other applicants and be ranked.
Both the district and union also worked to find health care savings. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield offered the district a three-year contract that would save the district about $1.25 million, according to the union.
The union also represents paraprofessionals and the district offered a similar contract, including a two-year salary freeze and eliminating the accrual of sick days.
Rosemary Boland, president of the Scranton Federation of Teachers, said negotiations “are not going well” and criticized the district for mimicking the recommendations of PFM, the district’s state-appointed financial monitor. The union authorized its leadership to call for a strike, but no date has been set.
The union continues to ask for the district to adopt recommendations made by the state fact finder in August. Teachers approved the report while the board rejected it. The report recommended keeping all current contract language and giving teachers regular step raises over the next two years without additional cost-of-living adjustments. Teachers typically advance a step each year until the top step of 16, and those steps usually increase each year as well.
The union asked for the school board to participate directly in negotiations, instead of just the solicitor, assistant business manager and chief human relations officer and also wants savings from any concessions to be used to save jobs.
Both sides plan to meet again today.
“Our task is to save as many jobs as possible,” Boland said. “They have themselves in a terrific bind. There is no way we can make up this deficit. They can’t get out from under the rock they put themselves under.”
Superintendent Alexis Kirijan, Ed.D., banned by the board from participating directly in negotiations, said she has little first-hand knowledge of the negotiations but said the school board will advise the district on “where to go from here.”
Solicitor John Minora said he remains hopeful that the two sides can reach an agreement.
“We’ve made some progress on certain items, like health care,” he said. “They’re important things that can save a lot of money.”
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