Teacher contract talks resume after second rejection of fact-finder’s report

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Structure and health care plans seen as major hurdle to new deal

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
PENNSBURY — And so the negotiations continue.

After district teachers rejected for a second time the framework of a proposed settlement offered by a state mediator, contract talks between the Unionville-Chads Ford School District and its teachers resumed Tuesday.

Although both sides have publicly talked about numbers — it appears to be structure that is the biggest hurdle right now to getting a deal done. The teachers are fighting to maintain their “step” system — the typical grid that gives teachers raises based on seniority. State mediator Mariann Schick adopted a district proposal to make the steps half as large and double their number — half-steps.

Sources close to the negotiation say that while the teachers are willing to negotiate on pay increase numbers, they aren’t willing to be the first district in the state to accept a “half-step” salary grid. Such a plan would double the time it takes a teacher to reach full seniority from 16 to 32 years, if it were to become the norm.

Another roadblock: the health care plan. Union sources say they’ve made offers to cut costs on their health care plans, but say that the district’s offer on health care would be a big cost increase for teachers and their families. The district counters by arguing that the district’s self-insured health care plan has seen spikes in costs and the numbers need to be better contained — a minor tweaking won’t be enough, especially in light of diminished real estate tax income and limits on tax increases — and are asking the teachers to accept a health care plan similar to what the district’s administrators agreed to last year.

In the fact-finding process — one requested by the teachers’ union — Schick largely sided with the district on pay and health care, while siding with the teachers on work rules and other non-economic issues.

School Board president Timotha Trigg added some urgency to that discussion Tuesday night, suggesting that if a deal weren’t in place by the end of the July, the school district would be looking at much larger health care costs for the 2011-12 budget year.

“If we cannot get that health care agreement by the end of July, it will be much harder to get an agreement done,” Trigg said.

While talks continue, both sides say they recognize growing frustration in the school community and have stepped up the pace of talks, working to find a deal.

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