1/13/08

Rebounding district balks at tax hike for teachers

Pittsburgh schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt is intervening in contract talks with teachers, starting Monday. District officials confirmed his involvement after representatives of Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers met Friday without reaching an agreement.

"We are doing all we can to not interrupt the school year and the process of improving academic achievement for our children," Roosevelt said in a prepared statement. "We fully realize that our teachers and staff are the key to student success and a better school system. We are working very hard to balance the academic and financial challenges of our system throughout the bargaining process so that a strike can be averted."

The union, which represents 4,042 teachers and other school employees, has already been authorized by members to call a strike.

"In my view, a teacher strike would damage the hard work that teachers, administrators and staff have already undertaken in our quest to advance public school education in Pittsburgh...(But) we will not support a contract settlement that would require a tax increase," Roosevelt said.

The two parties did not reach an agreement two years ago until Roosevelt became involved in the negotiations. That contact expired June 30.

School board members also will be available to attend the talks.

District spokeswoman Lisa Fischetti said the main issues are wages, post-retirement health care costs, the length of the work day, severance pay and the length of the contract. Teachers make an average of $62,000 a year.

Fischetti declined to say what both sides have proposed on those issues. Federation President John Tarka also declined comment.

However, a fact sheet from the district indicates that teachers get a $24,200 boost going from their ninth to 10th year in the school system.

This school year, 153 teachers are eligible for that increase, which will cost the district $3.7 million. The fact sheet said that city school teachers can double their salary in 10 years.

The district said teachers have one of the shortest work days of all school districts in the state -- 7 hours, 6 minutes -- and that retiree health care increased from $5.3 million in 2004 to a projected $11.8 million in 2007.

(pittsburghlive.com)

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