Chesco school strike settled The Downingtown Area School District reached an agreement with teachers yesterday afternoon.

Posted: February 07, 2008

School resumes today in the Downingtown Area School District, after striking teachers and the school board reached a tentative agreement yesterday afternoon.

Both sides said they would not release details of the settlement until both have ratified it. No date for a vote has been set; district spokeswoman Patricia McGlone said that the school board's regular meeting is Wednesday but she could not say if the board would vote then, because the teachers would have to ratify the agreement first.

McGlone said that students have to make up seven days of classes. The district will start working on a revised school calender today and will let parents know the new schedule as soon as possible, she said.

Negotiations resumed at 11 a.m. yesterday after talks broke down Sunday and an agreement was reached about 4:30 p.m.

By Sunday, the wage and health-care issues had been largely settled but other differences remained, including a union proposal to add three teacher training days that the school board rejected. Other issues include unsettled grievances and whether any proposed settlement would be fully retroactive to the beginning of the school year, including pay for extracurricular activities.

When the strike began on Jan. 29, the main issue was wages, with the teachers saying their salaries lagged behind those in other high-achieving districts in Chester County.

Paul Gottlieb, a Pennsylvania State Education Association staffer and spokesman for the 850 striking teachers, said the Downingtown teachers were 10th among the 12 districts in career earnings.

An Inquirer Report Card analysis shows that the teachers' starting wages this year are the fourth-highest in the county but the Downingtown top wage for teachers was only 10th highest.

The 11,730-student district, Chester County's largest, is growing rapidly and will soon have to build a new middle school and a new high school. This year, the district's property taxes are the fifth-highest of the 12 county districts, and taxes are tentatively slated to go up by about 4.4 percent next year.

District officials said their offer of an average 4.5 percent wage increase over four years was a fair one and was all the community was willing to pay. Though the two sides were close - about $1.9 million apart in the total value of their wage demands over a four-year period - the gap could not be bridged and the teachers walked out.

The union had offered to stay at work if the school board accepted binding arbitration, where the two sides would abide by the decision of a neutral third party. But the board said it did not want anyone else making economic decisions for the district and countered with an offer of nonbinding arbitration, where the two sides would not be bound by the proposal. The union turned that down.

The teachers had been working under the terms of their old contract since the end of August. The last strike in the district was in 1980.

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

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