"Council Rock teachers want to be in the classroom," Randy Hulings, president of the 850-member Council Rock Education Association, said yesterday in a statement. "However, it appears as though we must call a strike to be taken seriously."
Jeffrey Sultanik, lead negotiator for the school board, criticized the union for "games playing."
In Cheltenham, a union spokesman said late last night that a tentative agreement had been reached there, averting a strike that would have affected 5,000 students.
John Clark, a Pennsylvania State Education Association official speaking for the Cheltenham Education Association, said classes would begin Tuesday as scheduled. Details of the tentative pact, which must be approved by the union and the district, were not released.
And in the Owen J. Roberts district, a five-year pact was approved, 7-2, last night by the school board. Teachers in the Chester County district had accepted the contract on Thursday. Raises will average 3 percent a year, a union spokesman said. About 4,000 students attend OJR schools.
And teachers in six districts - Palisades in Bucks County, Octorara in Chester County, Chichester and Haverford in Delaware County, and Perkiomen Valley and Pottsgrove in Montgomery County - were set to show up for classes next week, though contract issues remain unsettled.
"The teachers have decided that as a show of good faith to the parents, that we are going back to work next week," said Tom Capista, president of the Haverford teachers' union. A strike in Haverford, which has about 5,500 students, remains a possibility as of Sept. 30 if there is no settlement by then, Capista added.
Under state law, teachers must give 48 hours' notice of their intention to strike. And while teacher strikes are not uncommon in Pennsylvania, there are numerous instances in which teachers take up their duties while bargaining continues with the use of fact-finding, mediation or arbitration.
Several area districts came to terms with teachers without undue tension over the last several months, but union leadership also uses the back-to-school season as a deadline, suggesting to boards that they are risking a possible strike without coming to terms. But more often than not, the teachers back off from striking.
In the Downingtown Area School District in Chester County, a two-week-old strike by a Teamsters local representing support staff has stalled deliveries, trash collection and mail service to schools there.
Rob Keller, president of Local 384, representing nearly 300 secretaries, teachers' aides and other workers, said yesterday that just one key issue remains: 14 months' back pay. A spokesman for the district could not be reached for comment.
In Council Rock, the two sides seem to be playing a game of brinkmanship.
In the spring, the teachers twice accepted a fact finder's recommended raises averaging just over 2 percent per year in a four-year contract. The school board rejected those terms.
More recently, teachers balked at cooperating with the district as it attempted to set up a split schedule of classes for 4,000 students at one high school while work is completed on a second high school. The teachers made cooperation conditional on a new pact.
Three years ago, Council Rock teachers worked for nine months with no contract. This time, getting a new wage and benefit deal is the priority, said Robert Hawkins, union spokesman. Teaching without a contract, he said, created "tension, stresses, a lack of ability to focus." All that, he said, "really wears on you."
Teacher strikes were reported under way yesterday in the North Schuylkill School District in Berks County affecting 2,300 students and in Abington Heights in Lackawanna County with 3,600 students.
Contact Connie Langland at 610-313-8134 or email@example.com.