Lehigh Valley

Divide between district and teachers widens in Saucon Valley

HELLERTOWN, Pa. - When you get down to it the Saucon Valley Education Association and the school district have a serious breakdown in communication.

During Tuesday night's board meeting, the Saucon Valley School District's negotiating team presented their side in the ongoing contract negotiations, which suffered a setback Sunday when the board rejected the association's latest proposal.

The board said teachers simply want too much money and aren't being honest about how much they really want.

"The two sides are far apart, further than ever before," said Director Edward Inghrim of the current state of affairs.

The board issued a written "report to the community" during the meeting that noted that the reasons for the latest rejection were salary, health insurance cost share, administrative meetings, school year, graduate study, retirement incentive and retroactivity.

Director Ralph Puerta accused the teachers union' of manipulating the truth when it comes to the actual amount of salary increases they are seeking, which is the primary point of contention between the two sides.

Puerta said the board objects to "excessive percentage increases" proposed by the salary increases, noting they do not contain "scale" increases.

To augment their verbal presentation, directors issued in their report that when the "scale" percentage is included, the vast majority of teachers would have received the following pay raises in Sunday's rejected proposal:

  • 2012-2013 - 5.1% (retroactive)
  • 2013-2014 - 5.85% (retroactive)
  • 2014-2015 - 5.35%
  • 2015-2016 - 5.35%

It would only be teachers in one category, Step 14, who would receive lower pay hikes:

  • 2012-2013 - 2%
  • 2013-2014 - 2.75%
  • 2014-2015 - 2.25%
  • 2015-2016 - 2.25%

"The board objections to these increases are the excessive percentage increases, and the retroactivity for two years, including the 2012-2013 year in which all other employee groups in the school district voluntarily accepted a wage freeze."

In addition, Puerta said the board could not "in good faith" pay teachers "retroactive" increases that were accrued during the lengthy contract negotiations and in fact would not do so.

"We have members who are not afraid to dig into numbers," said Inghrim of the board's rejection of the most recent association offer.

Another area of disagreement the board cited was health insurance.

"The rest of the district employees have accepted cost share contributions and plan design changes for the 2013-2014, 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 amounting to 10 percent of cost and deductible increases.

These increases have been accepted by staff earning less than half of the average teacher salary."

As such, the document states, "The board is unable to accept the Association proposal to exempt themselves for the next two years from the same cost share increases and plan design modifications that the rest of the district employees have accepted for three years."

While the crowd who turned up for Tuesday night's meeting was not swelling in number, totaling about two dozen, they were busting with approval of the directors' decision, affording them a hearty round of applause following the conclusion of the presentation.

One resident in attendance, who would not give her name, told the now familiar story of President Reagan, who just seven months into his presidency in 1981, fired 11,000 striking air traffic controllers.

She inquired why the district couldn't bestow the same fate to striking teachers. 

Solicitor Mark Fitzgerald responded by saying teachers were perfectly within their rights to strike under Pennsylvania law.

One voice that was silent Tuesday night was that of the teachers' union, who did not speak during the meeting.

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