HASD agreement ready for board vote

Teacher contract negotiations appear to be coming to an amicable end at Hollidaysburg Area School District.

Meanwhile, teacher negotiations are continuing at Altoona and Tyrone area districts.

The 2013-14 state budget retains 81 percent of funding cuts to public schools enacted in 2011 and 2012, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

The effects are being felt at negotiation tables statewide.

In northeastern Pennsylvania, teachers of Old Forge School District in Lackawanna County went on strike in late August after negotiations broke down. Wyoming Area School District teachers are on strike after Labor Day.

In western Pennsylvania, teachers of a third district, Shaler Area, went on strike.

In central Pennsylvania, teacher unions at Hollidaysburg, Altoona and Tyrone area districts have not gone on strike but have begun the 2013-14 school year with contract negotiations continuing.

A tentative agreement for Hollidaysburg Area teachers has been reached this week and will be up for a vote during the board’s Wednesday meeting.

“I believe the membership believes we received a fair contract and are looking forward to a great school year,” Hollidaysburg Area Education Association President Jim Murphy stated in an email.

The Hollidaysburg Area school board and teachers union have been in negotiations since last spring.

In April, the board and teachers’ union went into a 48-hour contract negotiations session, which was unsuccessful.

The union’s state representative, Pennsylvania State Education Association Chief Negotiator Mike Lehmier, then described the parties as being far apart from agreement.

“In the absence of an agreement, we were looking at a number of options, but we were hopeful that we could reach an understanding with the board. No teacher wanted to go on strike,” Murphy stated.

Board members wanted an agreement that would result in a zero cost increase to the school district. They have said they are willing to pay rates the union wants if its members were willing to pay more on their health care plan, which has long included no premium sharing and full coverage for spouses paid by the district.

The teacher’s union wanted fairer wages for the service they provide.

The estimated 3,254 people living in the Hollidaysburg Area school district who are 25 and older with bachelor’s degrees earn an estimated median salary of $45,844 before benefits are factored in, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The median earnings for individuals with higher degrees is an estimated $69,858, with about a $13,000 margin of error.

With the new contract, the average Hollidaysburg Area teacher salary would be increased to $53,332 from the past year average of $52,294. With the increase, the highest teacher salary is $73,300 and the lowest is $39,010, district Human Resources Director Dwight Straesser said. Most of the teachers have master’s degrees, he said.

Hollidaysburg Area teachers fall about $6,000 below the average state teachers’ wage, Murphy has said and maintains.

“A fair compensation package is critical to attracting and retaining quality teachers. Generally, top teachers will choose to work in districts that appreciate their efforts, deal with them fairly and show them respect,” he said.

Board President Ron Yoder said the district’s teachers have enjoyed benefits, in addition to their salaries that other school district residents do not have in the current economy.

Ultimately, a contingent of teachers and board members shook hands on the tentative agreement to be voted on.

“We worked late nights. We reached an amicable solution,” Yoder said. “Establishing a contract that was revenue neutral was the board’s intention. We have attained that.”

The cost of the salary increase will be balanced by district savings from adopting a high deductible health care plan.

Neighboring Altoona Area and Tyrone Area school districts continue negotiations with teachers.

“Negotiations are still ongoing, no resolve or anything yet,” Altoona Area Spokeswoman Paula Foreman said.

The most recent Altoona Area contract ended Aug. 31.

Tyrone Area Super-

intendent Cathy Harlow had no updates to report from her district.

“We are still continuing to negotiate, and we are hopeful we will work through it,” she said.

At Hollidaysburg Area, Superintendent Bob Gildea said the district’s board and teachers were cooperative.

“The teacher’s union and the board of directors worked cooperatively to reach an agreement that is equitable to both sides while taking into account the difficult financial circumstances that public school districts are currently facing,” Gildea wrote in an email. “Both parties remain committed to delivering a quality instructional program to the students of the Hollidaysburg Area School District and to the sustained well-being of the Hollidaysburg Area community of which the public school system plays a critical role.”