Kevin Knowles, chief negotiator for the Neshaminy Federation of Teachers, said the teachers' move to picket last week was sparked by an unsatisfactory salary and benefits package presented by the board at the last contract meeting, Oct. 12.
"It was basically an insult," Knowles said.
Contract negotiations began in January, and both the district and the teacher representatives agreed to a news blackout - an agreement broken for the first time with last Thursday's protest.
By picketing, the teachers "violated the intent of our agreement," said board President Ralph Clark.
Furthermore, he said, "it was intimidating to the parents. I don't agree with that tactic."
The union's grievances include the board's salary freeze, which, Knowles said, would prevent teachers from gaining credit toward salary increases. According to Knowles, Neshaminy already has the lowest starting salary for teachers in Lower Bucks County. The starting salary for teachers with no experience is $28,800. The average salary for teachers in the district is $51,600.
But Neshaminy board member and former President Robert Tull said that Knowles' complaints were deceiving. Although the district's starting salaries might be low, he said, "there are fewer steps to the top of the Neshaminy pay scale" than in other districts.
Paul Auerbach, board vice president and chief negotiator for the school district, said he was surprised by the union's protest last week and by "the aggressive nature of their statements."
District officials would not discuss details of their Oct. 12 proposal.
A mediator from the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board has been assigned to the case. The mediator will review points of contention between the parties and recommend a solution, a process known as fact-finding.
"We've gone back and forth on both sides," Clark said. "We need somebody coming in from the outside to take a look at it."
Clark said the process was expected to take 45 to 60 days.
After the labor board mediator presents a recommendation, negotiators will have five days to accept it or release details of the negotiations as public information.
Knowles is pessimistic about the negotiators' ability to reach an agreement, even with the involvement of the labor board. "It's almost a given that one side or another will reject the recommendations. This is just spinning wheels," he said.
"We want to do everything possible to avoid a strike, but after fact- finding, there are no more steps."