Central Cambria, teachers in contract negotiations

Teachers seek raise, vote to authorize strike

EBENSBURG — Though Central Cambria School District’s teachers voted to authorize a strike earlier this summer, Superintendent Jason Moore said he thinks the school board and union will “come to terms with an agreement that’s good for everybody.”

The district offered its teachers a 3.5 percent raise in May, but the teachers union would only settle for 4 percent.

“Negotiations are ongoing, and I think we’re optimistic that we’ll get it resolved. Teachers will be here at the start of the school year,” Moore said after a regular Central Cambria School Board meeting Monday night.

Board President Dennis Simmers said during the public comment portion of the meeting that the district intends to give its teachers a raise. It is unclear whether the district will give its teachers 4 percent, but a new contract would have to be in place before Sept. 1 in order for the district to do so.

The previous contract expired June 30.

Some Ebensburg residents attended the meeting to credit teachers and pressure the board into giving them “more respect.”

Emily Miller, who works as a special education teacher at Blairsville High School in Indiana County and who lives in Ebensburg, told the board: “I am just very concerned that if the negotiations continue to be so negative between the teachers and this school board, that we will lose some of our excellent teachers. I’ve heard that there’s a high turnover rate already. I am a teacher in a surrounding district. I travel to Indiana County where I receive much higher benefits and excellent pay,” she said. “Part of why my husband and I chose to move back to Ebensburg is because (of) the reputation of the district.”

Her husband, Chris Miller, also credited teachers at the meeting.

“Despite the resources, despite the lack of respect you are getting from the board, you’re doing a great job,” he said of the teachers.

Simmers said he takes “great exception” to Miller’s remarks about the district not respecting its teachers.

“You will not find nine folks up here — or anywhere — that supports the faculty in every sense of the word more than we do. I’ve often said that these folks have an incredibly challenging job,” he said.

The district did a five-year review of the 36 employees who have left the district within that time, Simmers said.

“There has been natural attrition where people have retired. We looked at the last five years of teachers that have left. Only a handful — four or five — have actually moved on to another district for higher wages. In other cases, you’ll find that people have moved on to another career field,” he said.

Jay Himes, Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials executive director, gave a 15-minute presentation about the availability of state revenue for school districts.

“(State-mandated pension payments) been a growing, growing, growing percentage of your funds that have to go to fund pensions. We’re marching backwards because the amount of revenue coming in isn’t keeping up with the amount of expense increase, particularly in pensions.”

Simmers said he does not know how many retired teachers the district currently has on a pension but said, “It’s in the many dozens.”

Himes said there’s bad news on the horizon in terms of construction and building improvements.

“If you’re in the PlanCon system now and have been approved at any step in the way, you’ll get funded. If you have new projects, there’s no state dollars available to support any of the local costs,” Himes said. “That will put more pressure on school district budgets. So, what does that all mean? Again, more pressure on property taxes, more pressure to reduce expenditures; use reserve funds if you have them. A lot of districts have used their reserve funds and no longer have any they can contribute to the general fund.”

Also at the meeting, the board approved a bid to replace decaying sections of the high school’s exterior facade. Construction is expected to begin soon, and Simmers said the district plans to pay for the construction with cash.

“We will plan on paying cash for those because we have special project funds that we have saved over the years to address those types of issues,” he said. “For all of the brick facade — because it’s crumbling around the whole perimeter of the building — you’re looking at about $1.1 million just for that work. The roof work, we do not have any estimates on yet.”

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