BELLE VERNON, Pa. - The Belle Vernon Area Education Association (BVAEA) announced Friday that teachers will go on strike next Tuesday, a day after the first scheduled day of school for students.
The association said in a press release that the strike is in “direct response (to) Superintendent Dr. John Wilkinson rescinding a promise to finish negotiating the entirety of a successor agreement after 400 days without a contract.”
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"We are still willing to negotiate with the district, 24/7 up to the deadline, and we implore the board to accept the invitation, but we are also fully committed to taking any and all steps available under Pennsylvania law in order to reach a contract settlement that treats our members fairly and equitably," BVAEA President Matt Horzempa said in a statement.
Horzempa told Channel 11 that last week, the district made a verbal agreement to a list of concessions, including a complete salary freeze for all teachers for the first year, no significant changes to the salary schedule for the last four years of the contract, a 25 percent increase in members’ health care premium share and fewer fringe benefits, in addition to a modest wage increase for only the most-experienced teachers.
"Obviously, the settlement is not about money. All of these concessions were made to avoid a strike,” Horzempa said in the statement.
Wilkinson announced that as a result of the strike, all open-house programs for the district have been canceled until further notice, along with the distribution of iPads for high school students.
A written statement from Wilkinson to the Belle Vernon Area School District community read, in part:
“The school district appreciates the right of the BVAEA to strike and we understand that negotiations can be a very difficult task. Both sides are working hard to come to an agreement. As in all negotiations, there are different perspectives.
“While we recognize the right to strike, the district also recognizes that our teachers are competitively and fairly compensated as compared to all educators in Western Pennsylvania and generously compensated compared to the rest of the workforce. It is the belief of the district that the tax dollars of the residents of the Belle Vernon Area School District are best spent in the direct service and benefit of our students.”
Wilkinson added that more information would be forthcoming about the district's plans for seniors and their attendance, career and technical center students, sports teams, cheer, marching band and all extracurricular activities.
Parent Danielle Larson said she was aware of the contract negotiations, but believed that had been resolved because she hadn’t heard any talk of trouble this summer. She said she was blindsided by Friday’s announcement.
“Being the parent of a senior, it does really concern me that the kids may not have the opportunity to graduate on time,” Larson said.