A 30-day window of opportunity for teachers in Saucon Valley School District to reconsider a new union contract slammed shut Tuesday night.
The window was opened by the school board, but the union's members did not change their minds.
"Today was the 30th day," said district superintendent Sandra Fellin. "At this time, we start from zero on both sides."
She stressed an offer of a retroactive pay increase for the teachers is now gone and won't be put back on the negotiating table.
She said that was made very clear to the Saucon Valley Education Association, the 185-member teachers union, when it was given 30 more days to accept a contract.
The teachers have been working without a new contract since June 2012.
On Feb. 24, members of the union rejected a tentative agreement that had been reached on Jan. 30 between the school district and their negotiating team.
On Feb. 25, the school board decided to give the union 30 more days to reconsider.
"Our understanding is they have removed their past negotiating team, which had been in place for the past two years, and are appointing all new negotiators from the union side," said Fellin. "We have yet to hear who they are or when they would like to meet again."
School board member Edward Inghrim, who is the board's chief contract negotiator, said he has no idea what's going to happen next.
"We are waiting to hear from the association," confirmed Atty. Mark Fitzgerald, the school district's solicitor. "The ball is completely in their court."
Fitzgerald said the union has to establish a new negotiating committee, inform the school district about who is on that committee and "articulate their position."
Inghrim said the negotiating team the union previously had in place "was a reasonable team." And he stressed it was the teacher's union that wanted an independent fact-finder brought in.
Inghrim said the 30-day period was for the union to reconsider the contract recommendations made by that fact-finder. He said the school board was willing to honor the fact-finder's recommendations for 30 days.
Inghrim said there are several options when contract negotiations meet a stalemate: fact-finding, non-binding arbitration and binding arbitration. He said the union asked for a fact-finder. He explained fact-finders look at both positions and come up with "a reasonable compromise."
Inghrim said the union has rejected the fact-finder's recommendations three times since last October.
Inghrim said the board voted to extend the offer for 30 days in hopes the union would reconsider and approve the contract, "which means they would have gotten raises for this year."
He said the fact-finder recommended pay raises for teachers should be retroactive until January. He said raises typically begin in September.
"Some people say that deal's off the table now, there's no raise this year," said Inghrim. However, he said when going back into negotiations "you never know what's going to happen...everything's on the table."
The board negotiator said teachers still are working under the contract that expired in 2012. "That only thing that doesn't occur is they don't get any raises. But everything else is basically in place."
Points of contention
Inghrim said salary is one major unresolved issue.
Another is that the school board is asking union members to pay a greater share of their health care benefits.
He said the board also wants to eliminate an open-ended incentive intended to spur early retirements.
"The way our contract is set up, there's no incentive to leave, so nobody leaves early. Ours doesn't have an end date. It goes on and on. The teachers basically wait until they're full pension eligible and then they say 'give me my retirement incentive.' Well, what's the incentive?"