NEW BETHLEHEM – More than a week into a strike by teachers in the Redbank Valley School District, both sides released statements earlier this week prior to this Thursday’s negotiation session.
According to Patrick Andrekovich, UniServ Representative with the Pennsylvania State Education Association which represents Redbank’s teachers and support staff, while the teachers and support staff would rather be back in the classroom, the first week of the strike went “extremely well.” He reported that teachers were visited and joined by students, parents and community members throughout the week.
“The backing from the community has been tremendous, and the food donations received on a daily basis have really been appreciated,” he said, noting that each day begins with a prayer offered by area clergy.
Andrekovich went on to say that when they are not on the picket line, Redbank Vally Education Association (RVEA) members have been doing community service activities in the area, including weeding, mulching and clean-up around the Redbank Valley Trail, Edgewood Heights and the Redbank Valley Public Library, power-washing and cleaning at the Hawthorn Church of the Nazarene Hall, and painting the back patio of the Redbank Valley Community Center.
“There are several other activities planned for this week, if the weather cooperates,” he said.
Regarding negotiations, Andrekovich said that the union hopes that talks scheduled for this Thursday, Sept. 23, are productive.
“We would love to be back in the classroom on Friday if possible [or] next Monday at the latest,” he said, reporting that district negotiator Jason Barnett said that the school board is “prepared to do this for 10 years.” “That is up to the board.”
Andrekovich said it is the hope of RVEA that the district has used the last several weeks to evaluate and accept the $1.2 million in concessions proposed by the teachers.
“We also hope that during the past few weeks they have been able to locate the $140,000 Dr. Shaffer has cited in the more than $4.5 million dollars they have in reserves and the $3.5 million in stimulus funds to end the strike and get the kids and teachers back in the classroom,” he said.
Reporting for the district’s negotiations committee, Dr. Chad Shaffer, chief negotiator, said that the team has formulated proposals for both the teachers and support staff associations that include “recurring expenses like salary and benefits set to the maximum of what it can offset in new revenue from annual tax increases.”
“The school board has given its approval to proceeding with the proposals,” he said, noting that the district’s labor attorney is drafting the documents for the proposals to be presented at Thursday night’s negotiation meeting.
“We feel the offers are strong and represent the best the district can do,” he said. “We sincerely hope the associations find them acceptable.”
In a letter from the state Department of Education sent last week to the district and RVEA, it is explained that since the district has already provided 11 days of instruction this school year, the strike cannot last beyond Nov. 3 or the district will be unable to complete 180 days of required instruction by the June 30 deadline. If there is a possibility that the strike could continue, the Secretary of Education is authorized to initiate injunctive proceedings.