PITTSBURGH - With the start of the school year at hand, almost half of the state's 500 school districts are facing contract negotiations for some portion of their workforce, including 43 districts in Western Pennsylvania.
The sticking points in talks range from the benign to contentious, as in Shaler Area School District where disagreements about salary scales and contributions to medical benefits have plagued both sides since long before the previous contract expired Aug. 15, 2011.
The union said in June it planned to strike on Tuesday - students' first day back at school - if the two parties failed to reach an agreement. Administrators asked the union to enter into a final, best-offer arbitration Wednesday night during a seven-hour meeting with a state-appointed mediator. Monday is their last scheduled negotiating session before the potential strike.
District officials at Bethel Park requested a new fact-finding panel with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board at a meeting Aug. 21. Both sides rejected the labor board's first recommendation in May 2012 after a six-week strike in late 2010. Teachers' previous contract expired June 30, 2010.
The average teacher's salary in Bethel Park was $58,386 for 2012-13 - ninth from the bottom among districts in Allegheny County, where the average teacher's salary is $65,343. Shaler Area teachers make an average of $56,362 a year.
"We're hoping this round of fact-finding will shed some new light on the process so we can bring this thing to a close," said Vicki Flotta, a Bethel Park spokeswoman.
Dan Carey, regional field director for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said administrators and teachers in Pine-Richland brought "substantial proposals" to the bargaining table when contracts expired in June 2012.
"Everything is cooperative and amicable, but it took a long time to get through the language," Carey said. "That's typical of every third or fourth contract cycle, and with the state of the economy, everyone is approaching financial talks cautiously. At Pine-Richland, we're just now talking about money."
The contract for Deer Lakes teachers expired this summer. Almost two dozen Allegheny County districts are bargaining.
Four districts in Westmoreland County are negotiating, including both the instructional and support staffs at Jeannette.
According to the PSEA, other active negotiations include four districts in Washington County, three in Indiana County, seven in Beaver County, two in Fayette County and one each in Butler, Greene and Armstrong counties.
Existing financial troubles at Duquesne City and Wilkinsburg have complicated both negotiations, Carey said. Contracts expired in 2012 and 2011, respectively. Last year, there were no teacher strikes in Pennsylvania for the first time in nearly three decades.
This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE.