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Strike Averted As Belle Vernon School District, Teachers Reach Tentative Agreement

UPDATE: Tuesday 8/25/15

Early Tuesday morning the teacher's union called off the strike after a tentative contract agreement was reached. 

“We are happy to have been able to reach a responsible agreement together with the BVAEA (Belle Vernon Area Education Association). We have a responsibility to the taxpayers and citizens of the Belle Vernon Area School District,” said School Board President Aaron J. Bialon.
“We believe that this tentative agreement is a demonstration of our commitment to the school district,” added Superintendent Dr. John Wilkinson.

Details of the agreement were not made public pending notification of the members. 

Tuesday's classes are canceled but school will resume Wednesday.

“As teachers, we want to be back in the classroom and educating the students of Belle Vernon Area.  We are very pleased to reach this tentative agreement, and we recognize the good faith and commitment of the Board in coming to the table and reaching this deal,” said BVAEA President Matthew Horzempa.

Original story:

There are nearly two dozen schools in southwestern Pennsylvania without a current teacher’s contract, and at least one of them will enter into a strike situation Tuesday morning.

Teachers in the Belle Vernon School district will take to the picket lines Tuesday forcing more than 2,500 students out of classrooms in two elementary schools, one middle school and a high school. Students reported to school for the first day of class Monday.

Belle Vernon Superintendent John Wilkinson said the district will evaluate its options Tuesday and then open for seniors Wednesday. 

“All the administrators are certified former teachers,” Wilkinson said. “[Seniors] will go through some classes…. and have it counted as one day in the books.”

State law requires that all students receive at least 180 days of instruction by June 15, but it is unclear when that would force teachers to return to work to teach the remainder of the students.

“It’s their right to exercise, through Act 88, if they want to strike, if they feel they need to then that’s fine,”  Wilkinson said Monday after school. “I greeted [the teachers] and welcomed them back, and it's not hard feelings, it's not personal, it's just different perspectives.”

The last contract expired in 2014. The union and the district have not been able to come to an agreement on pay, health benefits and the number of hours teachers will be in the classroom.

Wilkinson said demands from the union would add more to the budget than would be created by increasing the millage rate by one mill, which generates roughly $273,000.

“We need to consider other things that serve student — text books, infrastructure, computers, iPads, etcetera. Those things are just as important,” Wilkinson said.

The union did not return calls for comment, but in a written statement said it is offering a salary freeze for the first year of the contract, “No significant changes to the salary schedule” for the last four years of the contract and an increase in health care premiums.

“Obviously the settlement is not about money. All of these concessions were made to avoid a strike,” read the statement from Belle Vernon Area Education Association President Matt Horzempa.

Teachers and their supporters are expected to rally at a school board meeting Tuesday night. As of Monday afternoon, no new contract talks were scheduled and Wilkinson said he does not expect to negotiate while the teachers are on strike.

He said fact finding or arbitration might be the next step in the process. 

Wilkinson said the students' education will not be negatively impacted in the long run, but the students could be negatively impacted when it comes to standardized tests and advance placement tests. Those tests must be administered within a given window and students could be at a disadvantage if they receive fewer days of instruction before taking the test.

Pittsburgh teachers are also without a contract but have not issued a strike notice. Among the other schools in the region without a contract; Highlands, Northgate, Allegheny Intermediate Unit, South Allegheny, Baldwin-Whitehall, South Park, Sto-Rox, Wilkinsburg, Brentwood and A.W. Beattie Career Center in the North Hills.