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Pottsgrove Shows Its Hand In Negotiations

Pottsgrove Education Association President Megan DeLena addresses the school board Tuesday night

POTTSTOWN PA – The usually quiet, often secretive, and occasionally intense back-and-forth discussions that accompany almost any labor negotiations became dramatically public Tuesday night (Oct. 13, 2015) in the Pottsgrove School District.

The district Board of School Directors unveiled, in what were acknowledged as broad and limited terms, what it has formally offered to the 255 members of its teachers’ union: a four-year employment agreement, providing an average annual wage increase of 2.85 percent that includes pay hikes in two of four years, “step” (professional level) increases in three of four years and, at the top steps, additional money every year.

The package also includes changes to district health care insurance that, depending on the covered individual and plan options for deductibles and co-pays, may present teachers with either a savings or additional costs. All district employees, including administrators, will migrate to the same plan, in part to avoid the prospect of higher tax payments being imposed on premium or so-called “Cadillac” coverage, Business Administrator David Nester said.

After the meeting, in response to a question from The Post, Nester also said the proposal offered teachers greater flexibility in using personal days.

The board meeting audience at Lower Pottsgrove Elementary School, packed in part with blue-shirted members of the union – the Pottsgrove Education Association – sat in somwhat stunned silence as the public heard proposal details that were given only 24 hours earlier to union representatives at the bargaining table.

The union, so far, has not revealed details of its current proposal.

On Tuesday, however, union president Megan DeLena gave the board a petition from its membership urging directors to personally join in the negotiating process and asked the district to stop engaging in what she described as “verbal warfare … We ask you show us your willingness to compromise,” DeLena said.

The union claimed its members made substantial financial sacrifices when the last contract was signed, as Pottsgrove sought economic and tax relief for its property owners. “Now we ask to be treated faily in return,” DeLena added. Her request came against the backdrop of the board’s approval, later in the evening, of salary increases of between 1 and 3 percent for its three highest-paid administrators.

President Justin Valentine said he and other board members “look forward to the end of negotiations soon, with an amicable agreement.”

Teachers also received the vocal support of two district residents, Darlene Robinson and Danielle Walsh, both of whom made public comments to directors.

Robinson criticized as manipulative an earlier district notice about a potential union work-to-rule effort, calling it “an attempt to sway public opinion of teachers” and “raise the ire” of parents and other residents.

“I realize this is about negotiations and money. I get this. I know it’s not easy. I don’t envy you,” Robinson told directors. “But it looks like us against them,” she said of previous public sparring. “I know teachers go above and beyond for our children every single day.”

Walsh applauded teachers who “take very good care of our children,” and for whom the district should set its “budget priorities … I want you to know that in this Pottsgrove environment parents care, and 100 percent parents stand behind these teachers.”

After comments ended, and after the board had given its 6-1 vote (director Patricia Grimm opposed the measure) for 2015-2016 salary increases for Superintendent Shellie Feola, Assistant Superintendent William Shirk, and Nester, it adjourned for a 5-minute executive session on negotiations. When it returned, Valentine called on Nester to outline the contract proposal presented Monday night (Oct. 12) to the union.

As he finished, Nester said the board believed what it offered was “fair, given today’s economic conditions.”

Director Rick Rabinowitz then discussed the current health care plan, describing it as “far above” insurance coverages provided by most private sector companies. He agreed changing plans would require careful study by some families to ensure whatever option they chose works best for them, but he related his own personal experiences using the plan now being proposed to teachers and said under it his family saved about $1,500 in a single year.

Negotiations between the two parties are scheduled to resume next Monday (Oct. 19). None of the directors made any commitment to attend the talks.

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Oct. 13 meeting):

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