West Chester board OKs new teachers' contract

Posted: April 02, 2014

WEST CHESTER The board of the West Chester Area School District approved a new teachers' contract Monday night, bringing a close to negotiations that collapsed into a bitter public battle last fall.

The contract - which includes salary raises and benefits concessions - was approved by all but one member, Maureen Snook. It was backed by the four Democrats elected in November on a platform that pledged a healthier negotiating process. Several of those members attended negotiations, unlike their predecessors, who had sent a lawyer.

West Chester Area Education Association president Debbie Fell said that made all the difference.

"There was a respect for the process, a respect for us, and true negotiations," Fell said. "We could hear them. They could hear us."

The five-year contract is retroactive to June 2012, when the last contract expired, and runs through the end of the 2016-17 school year.

The two-year lag between contracts was felt in the hallways of the district's schools, as several clubs and field trips were canceled when teachers said they would only perform duties required by their contract.

Speaking to the nearly 150 people at East High School, 18-year-old Max Kneis said those actions put a damper on his senior year at Henderson High School. He then encouraged the board to approve the pact.

Others asked for the board members to abstain from voting, saying they did not have time to review the agreement, since it was approved by the teachers association and made public Friday night.

"I think you're all good people," Matt McKenzie of West Chester, the father of a kindergartner, told the board. "I really don't want your legacy to be a mistake like this, just giving your community one [business] day to go over this."

Under the new agreement, teachers will receive raises of about 2.6 percent each year. They will move to a health insurance plan that will save the district $1.4 million over the contract. After salary increases and benefit concessions are taken into account, the teachers will receive an average raise of about 1.9 percent annually, according to the district.

School board members and Fell spoke in support of the contract, a turn from last fall when tensions resulted in dueling news releases.

Each side accused the other of not keeping students' interests at heart.

Superintendent James Scanlon said that when they resumed negotiations, the board and the union agreed to a media blackout.

"There's been a lot of bad blood," said board member Robin Kaliner, one of the four elected in the fall. "I have sat in many meetings where there was a lot of yelling."

She said neither side was completely happy with the new contract, but added, "I don't think that's a bad thing."


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