Bellwood showing patience

For the Bellwood-Antis School District, it’s good news that the teaching staff has decided not to withhold services at the start of the coming school year if the instructors don’t have a new contract in place by that time.

A strike triggers disruption on many fronts, not only for teachers, students and parents. Others such as cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and food and milk suppliers also are adversely affected – indeed, most people who have any ties whatsoever to the district.

A work stoppage thrusts work or vacation plans for the next summer into limbo, since many strikes extend classes deep into June.

Additionally, no one knows what the coming winter will dish out in terms of school closings; a strike complicates the winter uncertainties.

“We are in the middle of negotiations,” said Kerry Naylor, vice president of the Bellwood-Antis Education Association, the union representing the teachers. “When a contract expires, we just keep going like it never expired.”

Even if teachers strike, they usually don’t experience monetary losses in the end, like those that workers in private businesses and industries experience.

The bottom line is that both sides in the B-A contract process must redouble their efforts to achieve a settlement with which both sides can feel comfortable, even if not fully satisfied.

It’s often said that the best contract is one where neither side gains all that it seeks.

For Bellwood, the key is to maintain determination to achieve a new pact before the current cooperative spirit deteriorates.

The district experienced a contentious situation last fall, spawned by prolonged inability to agree on a 2013-14 salary schedule. The need to negotiate that salary agreement resulted from the teaching staff’s acceptance of a wage freeze for 2011-12, despite having a contract in place that provided a raise.

That acceptance was a commendable response to Gov. Tom Corbett’s request for teachers across the state to agree to freezes because of the state’s fiscal situation that negatively impacted school subsidies. Bellwood was one of just several districts across Pennsylvania that heeded the governor’s request.

In exchange for teachers’ acceptance of the freeze, the Blair district agreed to extend the teachers’ three-year pact, covering 2010-11 through 2012-13, to 2013-14.

But settlement of that salary schedule turned contentious before an accord was reached last February.

Work had to be completed on the 2013-14 salary schedule before negotiations could begin on a new contract covering 2014-15 and presumably beyond. It’s clear that up to now neither side has struck a tone of urgency in achieving a new settlement. The teachers union and board have met only three times, with the next bargaining session set for Aug. 20.

Bellwood-Antis and most other Pennsylvania school systems are faced with serious financial challenges stemming from pension-funding obligations and the subsidies dilemma that the state’s own fiscal problems has created. For the local district, the coming months will be about how to pay for whatever more costly provisions the yet-to-be-completed agreement will contain.

That said, district teachers can’t realistically hope to receive everything that their initial proposal requests.

For now, the two sides are on the same page. Hopefully, that will continue.