Community backs its teachers

Central Cambria board, union in negotiations

Ebensburg Borough resident Kevin O’Brien (left) addresses the Central Cambria School Board in support of increasing teachers’ salaries during a meeting Monday night. More than 100 people attended. Photo for the Mirror by Matt Churella

EBENSBURG — More than 100 people stood, some in a hallway, because of limited space at Central Cambria School Board’s meeting Monday, in support of the district’s teachers as contract negotiations continue.

Some of those packed into the high school classroom spoke during the meeting’s half-hour of public comment. They included residents, students, former teachers and board members.

Nicole Falchini Oravec of Cambria Township was one of the residents to address board members.

“We need competitive wages. I have a husband who’s a teacher. He’s a teacher at a different school district, and I can tell you, you’re not competitive, and it’s sad,” she said during the meeting. “Please, please consider making this a competitive environment so that we can hold on to what we have.”

Central Cambria student Gabriella Gibson, 15, asked the board to “invest in our teachers just as the teachers have invested in our students.”

“When I see teachers responding to emails at 9 or 10 at night, posting grades on the weekends and answering questions almost instantaneously at all hours of the day, I am reminded how generous teachers are with their time,” she said.

The Central Cambria Education Association’s chief negotiator, Gary Cirelli, said 129 of the district’s 134 teachers are in the union.

“The last time we negotiated for the contract we’re under now, we worked three years without a contract. We took pay freezes, so we’re looking to avoid that and move things along,” he said, adding that teachers have worked without a contract since July 1. “We’re just blown away by the support that we have from the community. We’re here to show that we’re passionate about our students … that we’re passionate about our community.”

Cirelli said he would not discuss details of the union’s desires for a new contract because of a “media blackout.”

“We have another negotiation session Thursday. We’re going to address it then, but I’m just not going to get into any details just to keep the process going.”

Board President Dennis Simmers also declined to comment about ongoing negotiations.

“I think we’re getting very close. We’re extremely optimistic, actually. There’s confidentiality in the nuts and bolts of it, but it seems that we’re both heading in the right direction,” Simmers said.

He added that the board respects its teachers.

“We don’t want a strike. Because there is a difference of opinion on contractual matters, because we’re not seeing eye-to-eye, does not equate to devaluing the faculty or not respecting them,” he said.