Board tricked teachers into ending strike early?

The Lake-Lehman (PA) teachers union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district because the school board and administration changed the calendar. By moving the last day of school ahead, the district violated collective bargaining law by leading the teachers to believe their strike had to end early, the Pennsylvania State Education Association alleges.

District officials say they opted to end school later and keep extra holiday days for better attendance, a crucial part of federal No Child Left Behind law. Students are more likely to skip school on days like the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas, district solicitor Charles Coslett said.

“When we were redeveloping the calendar, I listened to parents and I listened to students, and tried to have a minimum of inconvenience,” superintendent James McGovern said. “My decisions have nothing to do with (the teachers’) positions. I care about two things: the students and the families of the Lake-Lehman educational community.”

“‘Inconvenience’ translates into ‘non-attendance,’” Coslett said. “To label this as motivated by anti-union animus is beyond the pale.”

On Nov. 9, the same day teachers returned to the classroom, the district “unilaterally changed the last day of school from June 13 to June 27, 2008,” the teachers’ PSEA field representative John Holland stated.

Because of the rescheduling, the 19-day strike does not prevent Lake-Lehman from providing the state-mandated 180 days of instruction by the end of the scheduled school year, he said. Based on the calendar approved by the board before classes started, the Pennsylvania Department of Education determined the strike could last through Nov. 8 to get the 180 days in by June 15, or by Nov. 26 to get them in by June 30, the absolute deadline.

At the time the teachers called the strike, the school calendar set the last day at June 13. Changing the end date means the strike could have continued for two weeks, Holland said.

If a strike lasts up to the state’s critical date, both parties enter mandatory, non-binding arbitration. The union believes the calendar change cancels it, however, because the teachers purposely stayed on the picket lines to what they thought was the required date to start the arbitration, Holland said.

Strikes aren’t allowed during arbitration. But if it hasn’t kicked in, teachers can resume their strike, Holland said.


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