Neshaminy teachers end strike

Parent Lisa Begley in a "Strike-Free Education" T-shirt that she wore to a rally in Harrisburg. BILL REED / Staff
Parent Lisa Begley in a "Strike-Free Education" T-shirt that she wore to a rally in Harrisburg. BILL REED / Staff
Posted: June 13, 2012

Neshaminy School District teachers called off their strike Monday "as an act of good faith," and more than 6,000 students will return to school Wednesday.

The 633-member Neshaminy Federation of Teachers offered to return to work Tuesday, but district officials said they needed a day to reopen the 13 schools.

"We're reopening earlier" than the state's Friday deadline, "and I'm happy about that," Board President Ritchie Webb said. "The community should welcome the teachers back with civility, and we can get this school year over with."

The school year has been marked by two NFT strikes that canceled classes for 15 days, and a "work-to-contract" job action that sharply curtailed teachers' preschool and after-school participation.

High school seniors were excused from final exams and will graduate Wednesday, but the school year will be extended to about June 27 for all other students.

The teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, and nurses have been working without a raise for nearly four years, under a contract the school board says it can no longer afford.

The union called off the strike during a hearing before Bucks County Court Judge Robert O. Baldi. The judge, responding to state Department of Education requests for injunctions to end the strike, ordered the teachers back to work by Friday.

The NFT then offered to halt the six-day strike "immediately, as an act of good faith," a union spokesman said.

But Webb and district labor lawyer Charles Sweet said schools could not reopen until Wednesday.

"It's for the children's safety," Webb said after the hearing. "We need to get the air-conditioning running in the schools that have it, and we need to bring in food."

NFT president Louise Boyd responded in a statement by accusing the district of "unnecessarily" prolonging the school year by another day, "and that's unfortunate."

By ending the strike, the union expected to return to the negotiating table Tuesday, Boyd said. But that session will be canceled, Webb said, because "technically, they're on strike and the schools are closed."

The board has refused to negotiate while the union is on strike.

The district has presented six dates for negotiating sessions, from June 26 to July 30, Webb said, subject to the availability of the union and the state mediator overseeing the talks.

"This will give us time to prepare a new proposal," Webb said. "Hopefully, we'll get all six dates."

Both sides are scheduled to return to court on June 25, for Baldi to consider ordering court-supervised negotiations, Webb said.

Contact Bill Reed at 215-801-2964 or wreed@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @breedbucks. Read his blog, "BucksInq," at www.philly.com/bucksinq.

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