School district cancels classes The West Chester Area board and its teachers had not agreed on a contract last night. A strike looks likely.

Posted: September 25, 2003

West Chester Area School District officials announced the cancellation of today's classes after negotiations between the district's 900-member teachers union and the school board failed to reach an agreement by 9 p.m. last night, a deadline set by the district to decide whether to hold school.

While discussions with a mediator were still going on late last night, a strike appeared likely.

"I'm expecting that . . . teachers will be picketing," said Jeffrey Sultanik, a negotiator for the school board. "The teachers have not withdrawn their strike notice."

The union, which has been without a contract since June 30, had set a strike deadline of this morning if no agreement with the school board is reached. Negotiations between the union and the board started at 4:30 p.m. yesterday.

If they strike today, the teachers would be required by state law to return to work on Oct. 17 so students could get in the required 180 school days by June 15, district officials said. Most holidays and teacher in-service days would be canceled. Nonbinding arbitration would follow.

All regular district classes will be canceled if there is a walkout, district officials said. Most out-of-district classes would continue, and transportation would be provided for students in non-public and charter schools.

Decisions regarding middle school and high school sports and extracurricular activities will be made on a case-by-case basis and will be available on the district Web site or by calling the district's hotline.

College placement services for seniors during a strike would be available; the district has hired an outside firm to help. All school offices would operate as usual during a work stoppage.

If teachers do strike, community use of school buildings will continue and the district will provide child care for 300 elementary school students; no more children are being accepted.

Coming into yesterday's talks, the school board had made it a condition of any agreement that the teachers agree to pay a portion of their health-insurance premiums. The union had instead proposed shifting to a less expensive health-care plan in the fourth year of a five-year contract.

The board had proposed adding six days to the school year within the next three years; the teachers agreed to add two days over the next five years.

The union wants class size for kindergarten through third grade reduced; the board would not negotiate on that issue, calling instead for a districtwide discussion of the matter after the contract is settled.

The board had proposed wage increases of 2.5 percent a year for three years, counting built-in seniority-based salary increases. The union wanted increases of 4 percent a year; counting the built-in increases, that works out to almost 7 percent in the first year and just under 6 percent in following years.

Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 610-701-7638 or dhardy@phillynews.com.

For Information

For the latest on the West Chester teacher contract talks, visit www.philly.com.

For updates, visit the West Chester Area School District's Web site at www.wcasd.k12.pa.us, or call the district's hotline at 610-793-1125.

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