A Pittsburgh education advocacy group is coordinating organizations that could care for children in the event of a teacher strike.
“We know kids and families will need a safe caring place when school is closed where children may continue to learn. Their parents and caregivers need to be at work,” said Tracey Reed Armant, the chair of the A Plus Schools Board in a release.
The nonprofit started talking about the need for a plan in November as negotiations stalled. When the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers mailed ballots Monday asking its 3,000 members for authorization to call a strike, A Plus started working on a plan.
The group has distributed forms for caregivers and volunteers asking what would be needed and who could help. PPS serves 24,000 students.
PFT President Nina Esposito-Visgitis said as of Thursday afternoon, the union hadn't met with the district and nothing has been scheduled.
The PFT and PPS administration have been negotiating for more than a year-and-a-half. Contracts expired in June 2017 for teaching professionals; paraprofessionals, which includes teaching aides; and technical-clerical workers, like information technology specialists and auditors. The PFT hasn’t gone on strike in more than 40 years.
Votes will be counted Feb. 12., but an authorization doesn’t necessarily mean union members will walk out. Both parties have said they want to continue the bargaining process.
Coordinating service providers is a different approach than the lobbying effort A Plus undertook in 2007 when the PFT last voted to authorize a strike. The union and the district agreed on a contract before a walkout occurred.
At that time, A Plus organized by urging both the union and the district to stay at the bargaining table, according to executive director James Fogarty.
Staying out of the negotiations was the approach a Chicago group took in 2012 when teachers there authorized a strike.
“Organizations there were careful to ensure that they were just taking care of kids,” Fogarty said.
Sixty-five percent of PPS students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and many families rely on the school for meals and after-school care.
“You couple that economically disadvantaged number with the number of kids in third through eighth who are not doing math at grade level, 73 percent of the kids, we know that time out of school is not something our children in Pittsburgh and our Pittsburgh Public Schools can afford,” he said.
According to the district, “there are points in dispute that would help the administration achieve its priority goal of improving student outcomes.”
In October, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board appointed a third-party arbitrator to review sticking points, including contract lengths, salaries, teacher scheduling and health care benefits.
In a statement Jan. 26, Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said the district is working diligently with the PFT toward a resolution, “prioritizing our mission of providing the highest quality education possible for every student.”
“I have nothing but the highest regard for our outstanding teachers – in fact, as a former teacher, I have walked in their shoes,” he said in the statement. “But I have a responsibility to the children of this district to put their needs above those of adults, even adults I deeply respect and admire. Real change results from difficult work.”