JOHNSTOWN - Central Cambria School District's teachers seem to be close to a contract agreement with the school.
Teachers, who have been working without a contract since June 2012, staged a demonstration during a Monday school board meeting at Jackson Elementary to ask for an opportunity to continue talks.
Barb Henning, lead negotiator for Central Cambria's teachers, said some of the facts presented by the board members - including average employer health care contributions and data about retiree health care - weren't entirely accurate.
School officials said average employees pay between 22 and 24 percent toward premiums, but Henning said that includes private-sector employees; the average for education employees is lower.
She said under the Affordable Care Act "the numbers are changing quite quickly" and couldn't provide an average teacher's contribution but said both sides are interested in controlling costs.
She also said an assertion that a majority of school districts had eliminated retiree health care was untrue.
"A number of them have, but it's not a majority by any means," she said.
Superintendent Vincent DiLeo said he understands some of the union's requests, but times are tough, and the district - with years of flat or discontinued funding for its programs - is strapped for cash.
"Money just isn't coming like it used to," he said. "Basic education funding has been reduced. We're doing a lot of unfunded mandates."
Henning said teachers anticipated reduced retiree health care benefits, but cutting them entirely by 2018 as planned was too soon and many haven't had time to set aside money for it.
However, she said, it seems both sides are "close on most of the issues," including a salary schedule, and teachers are anxious to resume talks.
DiLeo said he wants to compromise, but each one leads to increased expenses and, as an overseer of the district's pocketbook, he wants to avoid deficit spending.
He said that, unlike some other area school districts, Central Cambria hasn't gotten to the point where it's had to cut elementary physical education, music or arts programs, and he doesn't want that to become part of the discussion for a balanced budget.
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.