Wilson School District in Berks

SPRING TWP., Pa. – The Wilson School Board voted 8-1 Monday night to approve a two-year contract with the Wilson Education Association, the district's teacher union.

The existing four-year agreement expires June 30. The new contract begins July 1 and expires June 30, 2023.

The terms of the agreement call for teachers to receive a step movement in both years of the contract to determine their salaries. Employees who are beginning their 28th year of service with Wilson will receive a $2,000 longevity bonus, and will continue to receive the same annual bonus as long as they are employed full-time with the district.

The entire agreement, as well as the salary charts for both years, are available on the school board website.

Board Treasurer Michael Martin cast the dissenting vote, saying the board all too often has a short memory.

"Last spring, we asked all parties to consider a pay freeze until we could understand the impact of COVID," Martin said. "We have had a trying time during that period, including a budget crisis, community concerns and senior citizen concerns. I was hoping for support from the teachers in this transition period."

Martin said he believed a fair contract would have given 2% raises across the board.

"I am very disappointed with this process," he added. In comparison to a plan that would have given 2% raises, he said, "We are spending $750,000 more. This will compound itself down the road and continue to compound itself forever."

Martin also reminded the board that over the next five years, the district will most likely be looking at a total of a 25% increase in the real estate property tax.

High school renovations

In other business, the board voted unanimously to authorize the administration to engage Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, a Cumberland County architectural firm, to continue the design and development phase for comprehensive additions and renovations of the high school.

A feasibility study was done by the firm in 2019 for a comprehensive study of the future building needs of the district.

Martin said it was important to make public that the estimate for the high school renovation project is between $40 million and $45 million.

"It's important that the public understand that and that we are not hiding it," he said.

Return to in-person classes

In another matter, Martin questioned the administration about when students will return to the classrooms five days a week, saying the mental toll the pandemic has been taking on students is unacceptable.

"We're imposing arbitrary rules — not laws — on our situation," Martin said.

While kindergarten through fifth grade have been attending five days a week since August, sixth through 12th grades have been attending a hybrid version with both in-person and virtual learning.

Superintendent Richard Faidley said in order to bring back all students to full-time in-person classes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will have to agree to changing the social distancing requirement to 3 feet from the existing 6 feet.

"As we move from substantial to moderate, we believe the state should give us additional guidance and less stringent rules," Faidley said. "The virus has not gone away. We have to make sure we don't make a rash decision."

Faidley also said he believes the district will be able to bring back the senior class five days a week after spring break, which ends April 5.

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