Teachers union strike boss misses the point

The PA Department of Education calculated, based on the school calendar submitted by the district, the teachers can strike through Nov. 8 and still make 180 days of instruction by June 15.

School can’t be held on federal holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. The Pennsylvania State Education Association’s position is if the district had asked the state to include up to five holidays the board approved on the school calendar, such as the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Good Friday, the strike could end as early as Monday.

“This board is forcing the teachers out on strike,” the teachers’ PSEA representative John Holland said. “They forced them out on strike with their proposals, and now they’re keeping them on strike by not designating their five local holidays.”

Holland already asked the Department of Education for a recalculation, and the department upheld its original date of Nov. 8. It’s not too late for the district to ask for another recalculation with five additional holidays, PSEA spokesman Paul Shemansky said.

Would the school board request another recalculation?

“It’s something I think they would consider,” Superintendent James McGovern said. “I do have a call in to the Department of Education, and I want to discuss our options with them.”

The administration and board will change the calendar after the strike, McGovern said. District officials must consider issues like snow days, a set graduation date, and whether there could be another strike in the spring.

“Everybody is naturally assuming there will be school on New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve, but the calendar has not been revised,” he said. “There are many different options the district can take.”

On Holland’s assertion the district is forcing the teachers to strike: “That’s almost insulting,” McGovern said. “I’m not looking at the calendar to strengthen or undermine one team’s position over the other. That’s not my job.”

He said his sole intention is to alter the calendar in the best interests of the students and community.

“This isn’t a lockout. (Teachers) can come back tomorrow,” McGovern said. “Administration is not developing a strategy based on the calendar to keep them out. We’re adjusting the calendar to their actions. It’s as simple as that.”

The Department of Education will re-check its calculations if asked to, but spokesman Michael Race said he couldn’t say what might happen until the department gets a formal request.

The letter the department sends to the district and union giving the date teachers must return is a courtesy, and Race stressed that the return date is not legally binding.

“If there’s more of an obsession on the date than on resolving the issues, someone’s missing the point here,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter who’s right in that situation, because the date is not legally binding.”

“To say that it isn’t binding isn’t true,” Holland countered.

If teachers don’t go back on the department-designated date, the state Secretary of Education can get an injunction in court and order them back, he said.

The drop-dead state deadline for districts to complete 180 days of school is June 30, but the union is only striking for as long as it takes to make the June 15 date.

Then non-binding arbitration becomes mandatory, Shemansky said.

“That’s the only reason they are staying out the maximum number of days: they want that (neutral) third party to come in,” he said.

The teachers could cut the strike short, McGovern pointed out. Non-binding arbitration could start any time the two parties agree to it, he said.

Asked if the union might go for non-binding arbitration before the strike ends, Holland replied, “They (the district) need to fulfill the obligations. If they want the teachers to come back, they need to designate their five local holidays. It rests squarely on their shoulders. They are not going to throw out these red herrings.”


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