West Chester teachers agree to a wage freeze

Posted: April 12, 2011

Teachers and other staff in the West Chester Area School District have agreed to a wage freeze next school year to help close a budget gap widened by proposed state budget cuts.

The decision, ratified by the school board Monday night and by teachers last week, is likely the first by teachers in the Philadelphia area. Gov. Corbett has asked districts to take such action as a way to help absorb a reduction in proposed state education aid next year.

West Chester has about 1,380 employees. The savings from the agreements covering teachers, administrators, and support staff will total about $1.4 million.

The contracts for each group will expire June 30. The teachers have approved a one-year extension, with no increases, including no extra pay for those who get advanced degrees or additional graduate credit. The teachers got a 4.3 percent salary increase this year; administrators and support staff got increases of 2.9 percent.

"Some teachers are giving up thousands of dollars in potential increases," said superintendent James Scanlon.

At Monday's board meeting, Debbie Fell, a high school special-education teacher and president of the West Chester Area Education Association, said the teachers had approached the board about the freeze.

"Members of our union are willing to share in the sacrifices that are required by everyone in the community," she said, adding that teachers overwhelmingly voted for the agreement.

School board member Sean Carpenter, who negotiated for the board, said, "This solution helps the district get through next year."

The school board in the 11,825-student district voted this year not to raise taxes for 2011-12 above 1.4 percent. The district was close to balancing its budget in early March. But under Corbett's proposed state budget, West Chester would get $3.4 million less aid than the district had anticipated.

Administrators are considering eliminating 35 jobs, including teachers and support staff, in 2011-12 by attrition. Scanlon said that even with the wage freeze, "some or all" of those cuts might still have to take place.

Corbett called on schools to freeze wages as a way to help make up for the lower funding. Such action, he said, could save an estimated total of $400 million.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said it was taking the request seriously. As a result, negotiations are under way in many districts. So far, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, teachers in at least 16 districts, besides West Chester, have agreed to a freeze for 2011-12. In some districts only administrators have signed on; Lower Merion is the only one in the region.

Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 215-854-2612 or at dhardy@phillynews.com.


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