Phoenixville Teachers To Strike Monday The Union Notified The School District Yesterday. The Next Round Of Contract Talks Is Scheduled For Nov. 23.

Posted: November 05, 1999

PHOENIXVILLE — The Phoenixville teachers' union fulfilled last week's strike threat by giving written notice to the district yesterday that its 248 members will not show up to teach on Monday.

The negotiation process effectively halted last week when the two sides could come no closer to agreement on the key issues of salary, benefits and work time. At a meeting scheduled by the mediator on Wednesday night, union representatives balked at the latest proposal from the Phoenixville Area School District. The next scheduled negotiating session is Nov. 23.

Union spokeswoman Joyce Devaney could not be reached for comment. However, David Bretzius, a member of the negotiating team, said, ``Our position remains that we still have problems with a proposed benefit plan that includes co-pays, requests a great deal of work time and requires more than 17 steps'' to get to the highest wage tier.

The board's most recent proposal included an annual salary increase of 3 percent over four years, up from 2.86 percent; called for health insurance co-pay of $20 per doctor's visit (union members currently pay $5); and an 18-step salary tier. Teachers' salaries under the old contract ranged from $28,000 to $71,035 on a 15-step scale. The teachers have been working without a contract since June 1998 and authorized negotiators to strike last October.

David Langdon, spokesman for the 3,270-student district said, however, that the offer was based on parameters outlined by the entire board. An executive session of the 12-member board was held last night.

Although the union has made its dissatisfaction known since last week, district negotiators have been taken aback by recent events. ``The negotiating team is very disappointed. We worked long and hard over the summer,'' Langdon said. ``We thought we were making a lot of progress. And then in November, suddenly everything died.''

Representation on both sides has changed, and, according to Langdon, open communication has all but ceased. ``Only Bob talks now,'' he said, referring to the chief negotiator for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Bob Brown, who has been overseeing the negotiations.

``The dialogue has broken down, and the tenor of the meetings has really changed,'' Langdon said.

State law limits the number of days teachers may strike, based on a formula that considers the end of the school year - which cannot be extended - and the amount of vacation time remaining in the year that can be replaced with school days.

Parents who work will, nonetheless, have to make short-term arrangements for their children. ``This is going to be a burden for some of the parents,'' said Superintendent Robert L. Urzillo.

According to Eric Pontius, director of the Youth and Family Services Program at the Phoenixville YMCA, the likely impact is hard to predict.

``There may be a lot dumped off here that aren't in any scheduled programs,'' he said. ``It's hard to predict how many more kids we'll get, but we're used to dealing with large groups.'' Staffing will be a problem, Pontius said. ``Most likely, we'll be inundated.''

The idea of having class on days that would otherwise be holidays does not sit well with parents.

``I think it's a shame,'' said Rebecca Krause, president of the Second Avenue Home and School Association and parent of three children in the district. ``Everybody loses.''

Teachers in two other Chester County school districts - Kennett Consolidated and West Chester Area - are also working without a contract.

In Kennett, negotiations between teachers and officials representing the school board were continuing. Yesterday, the two sides met in a closed session to discuss a comprehensive written counterproposal the teachers' union submitted on Oct. 25.

The counterproposal, requested by the school board two weeks ago, addressed salary schedule and other major issues.

The more than 240 teachers in Kennett have been without a contract since June 30. On Oct. 11, they voted to allow their union to call a strike whenever it deems necessary.

The district enrolls more than 3,300 students.

In West Chester, school district and union officials have reached a tentative four-year contract agreement, after 10 months of disagreements over salary, health benefits and the length of the work year.

The 850 teachers in the union have been working in the 12,000-student school district without a contract since June 30.

Officials said details of the West Chester agreement can't be released until both sides approve it. The teachers union will vote Nov. 11. The board could take up the agreement at its Nov. 22 meeting or schedule a special meeting.

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