ADAMS TWP — The school district and its 200 teachers ended a year of contention with a new, two-year contract in November.
The previous one-year contract expired on June 30, so representatives of the school district and the Mars Area Education Association began meeting in January.
The two sides listed salary and benefits as the main sticking points in negotiations.
When no headway was evident by March, the school board voted to bring in a state fact finder to hear both sides’ cases and create a report. If accepted by both sides, that fact-finding report would have become the new contract.
District solicitor Tom King told board members in March they were not required to seek the union’s approval for going into fact finding, but that teachers would be given the same opportunity as the board to state their case to the fact finder.
The Mars Educational Support Personnel union also spent 2012 working without a contract. The union includes 203 paraprofessionals, secretaries and custodians. That union also presented their case to the fact finder.
The teachers and support personnel unions both rejected the fact finder’s reports in May. A required second vote in early June saw the teachers again vote to reject the report.
After fact finding was announced in March, teachers, parents and students began attending the monthly school board meetings, with the vast majority supporting the teachers and support personnel. Some even advocated a tax increase.
In June, the school board voted to advertise for bids for a company to provide support personnel on a contracted basis. Solicitor Tom Breth explained the move was simply to give the board an idea of the cost of contracting the workers and to share the information with support personnel union leaders during negotiations.
That move brought out the public again, with several students, parents and teachers advocating for the retention of the current support personnel.
School board President Dayle Ferguson repeatedly stated at the monthly meetings that while no school board members wished to furlough support personnel or deprive teachers, school district funding across the state was tight and would only get worse in the future.
In August, the board reiterated that outsourcing the support personnel remained an option for the district. She said any and all viable opportunities to save significant money while maintaining educational programs must be considered.
In October, teachers authorized a strike, meaning union members voted to allow their negotiating team to call a strike if they saw fit. The school board then voted to add solicitor Tom King to their negotiating team.
By mid-month, superintendent William Pettigrew said he felt an end to the standoff was near, and the entire school board, along with King, Pettigrew and business manager Jill Swaney met with the teachers union negotiators.
King pronounced that bargaining session as “very productive,” and a tentative agreement with teachers was reached on Oct. 16.
The agreement was finalized by a Nov. 5 vote, in which both sides approved the new teacher’s contract. The two-year contract took effect retroactive to July 1. Teachers will receive a 3-percent pay increase this school year and a 4.4-percent increase in 2013-14. The most experienced teachers at the top of the pay schedule will receive annual increases of at least $1,000.
The current starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree at Mars is $37,532. This teacher now will make $38,658 this school year and $40,359 in the 2013-14 school year.
The average salary for a teacher is $55,445. This teacher will earn $57,108 this school year and $59,621 next school year. The highest paid teacher in the district, who has a master’s degree and is at the top of the salary schedule, makes $72,712. This teacher will get $74,893 this school year and $78,188 next school year.
Stipends for teachers serving as an activity sponsor, coach or other supplemental position will be raised 3 percent. The contract will expire on June 31, 2014.
The district remains in negotiations with the support personnel union, who also list salaries and benefits as their barrier to an agreement.