1/14/08

Mayor may disclose collective bargaining info

Pittsburgh schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt said the school district might soon make public its contract proposal to teachers and warned that a strike could damage his reforms.

"We believe the public has some right to know what's happening and why," he said Sunday during a break in a school board meeting. "If there's going to be a strike -- and I hope there's not -- then the public has a right to know what the differences between us are."

The 4,042 teachers and other school employees who belong to the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers authorized union leaders to call a strike whenever they think it necessary. Teachers have been working without a contract since the previous one expired June 30.

By law, the union must give the district 48 hours' notice of a strike. Roosevelt said he has not yet received such notice. "We've not made a final decision as to if or when a notification will be sent," federation President John Tarka said.

Tarka said the union held a meeting of building representatives Jan. 5 at which they discussed what would happen if a strike occurred.

"But the bottom line is we're working to avoid a strike," he said.

The district has not had a strike since 1975-76. Both sides will meet again today, and Roosevelt will attend the session.

"I might bring board members," the superintendent said.

Roosevelt was clearly upset by the lack of progress in contract talks. When board member Randall Taylor asked him yesterday about the status of district reforms, Roosevelt responded, "The situation with the teachers right now has the possibility of threatening everything we're doing."

During Roosevelt's two years as superintendent, the district has closed 22 schools and started a curriculum and eight accelerated learning academies with a longer school day and school year. Roosevelt has proposed closing Schenley High School in Oakland and starting four grade schools serving grades six to 12.

Bargaining issues include pay, post-retirement health care costs, the length of the workday, severance pay for unused sick leave and the term of the contract. Neither side has made its offer public.

The average pay for Pittsburgh teachers is $62,000 a year. The current workday is seven hours and six minutes.

The district contends that health care costs for retired teachers have more than doubled in three years -- from $5.3 million in 2004 to a projected $11.8 million last year. In addition, from 2001 to 2006, annual wage increases for teachers with fewer than 10 years of experience have averaged 3.7 percent.

The union counters that teachers at the top of the pay scale -- those with at least 10 years of experience -- have received an average wage increase of 1.6 percent a year between 2000 and 2006.

(pittsburghlive.com)

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