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INDIANA: School board, IAEA ratify pact

by on April 29, 2014 11:00 AM

Teachers and school directors on Monday ratified a new three-year labor agreement for the Indiana Area School District to take effect July 1.

The deal between the district and Indiana Area Education Association creates a new entry-level step called Instructional 1 on the teachers’ pay scale with a salary of $48,000, about $11,000 lower than the current starting pay rate, district officials said.

A contract summary provided by Business Manager Jared Cronauer shows the district could save $231,000 if 21 new teachers are hired for the 2014-15 school year.

Overall, salaries will increase an average of 1.08 percent, 2.9 percent and 2.3 percent in the three years of the contract. Combined with savings in health care costs and the reduced entry-level salary, the contract will cost the district $554,000 over the current pay scale, according to the summary.

The contract freezes the extra duty/extra pay stipends that already are set at $3,000 or more, and gives 2 percent increases for smaller amounts.

The district would save more than $100,000 by reducing long-term substitute salaries to 90 percent of scale.

The agreement also increases the teachers’ work year from 185 to 186 days, adding an in-service day before the start of classes in August.

The contract was approved over criticism by board member Robert Gongaware, the chairman of the audit and finance committee and a member of the district’s negotiating team, who said Indiana teachers’ salaries exceed state averages.

“You can try to blame the governor’s budget for our financial woes, but the elephant in the room that no one mentions … is the cost and structure of the current IAEA contract,” Gongaware said. “When you have one of the richest contracts in the state, and you’re in a district with high taxes and yearly operating losses, the early-bird approach doesn’t really cut it.”

Gongaware said the average instructional cost in Pennsylvania — the teacher cost per student — is $7,800, but is 42 percent more for Indiana, at $11,800.

The portion of total school budgets spent on instructional costs averages 58 percent statewide but is 63.4 percent in Indiana, he said.

The amount of local tax revenue spent per student averages $7,700 across the state, but is $11,200 in Indiana, 42 percent higher than the average, Gongaware said.

Yet with more money being spent per student, Indiana’s average scores on PSSA tests fall below the average for districts about the same size and aid ratio as Indiana, according to Gongaware.

“We haven’t increased our budget allocation for curriculum in quite some time,” Gongaware said. “It’s not because we don’t pay enough in taxes, but because a lopsided amount of our tax dollars goes to teacher salaries and benefits.

“My wife is a teacher and I see daily the time and effort she puts in to provide the best and most challenging education she can offer to her students. And our teachers in this district do the same thing day in and day out. But ultimately it’s about a fair and equitable compensation package that the district can afford,” he said.

“I’m told our 10-step contract is the jewel in PSEA’s cap … and an entitlement. In my mind, professionals don’t have entitlements and need to earn their worth. I would much prefer to vote for full negotiations and fact-finding. The community needs to know their tax dollars haven’t necessarily provided the best education in the state.”

Gongaware said Indiana’s teacher contract should be fully renegotiated to make it affordable for taxpayers and the district to manage in the long term.

“I will vote no on the early-bird contract because it does not address our long-term financial problems. We need full negotiations and we need to fix this,” he said.

Senior high social studies teacher Michael Tshudy, the president of IAEA, declined to respond to Gongaware’s remarks, saying only that a joint statement issued by the association and the district represented the IAEA’s position.

The board voted 7-2 to ratify the agreement. Directors John Barbor, Deborah Clawson, Hilliary Creely, Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro, Diana Paccapaniccia, Brian Petersen and John Uccellini were in favor; Gongaware and board President Thomas Harley voted no.

But Harley also said the district did gain financial ground through a new high-deductible health plan, and by lengthening the waiting period for long-term disability benefits from 45 to 90 days.

“No hogs got fed here,” Harley said.

In the joint statement, IAEA leaders and district officials said that “in light of all the challenges facing public education, (the contract) will allow the school board and its teachers to focus energies on the needs of the students of the district.

“The association feels that this contract represents a fair settlement considering the current funding issues from the state and the looming increases to the (retirement) system and health care costs.

“The district is pleased that progress has been made on several key issues and that the early settlement will enable these changes to occur soon,” according to the statement.

Along with the new contract, the board approved an amendment to the current labor agreement to extend until May 13 the deadline for teachers to choose to retire under the current incentive program. The amendment was approved 7 to 2, with Gongaware and Harley opposed.

Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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