9/10/08

Rain halts striking teachers picketing

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The second week of the Souderton Area (PA) Education Association's strike has brought some changes to where the district's teachers are walking the picket lines, and Tuesday's showers brought a bit of an interruption, too.

"Today, because of the hazardous weather condition, we had to cancel our picketing; it wasn't able to take place because of the weather," said SAEA president Bill Lukridge on Tuesday.

The soaking rainfall that started around 10 a.m. caused teachers on those picket lines to pack up their strike signs and seek shelter, but only from four strategic sites due to a change in picket policy.

"We are now picketing four major spots: the high school, Franconia Elementary, Indian Valley Middle School, and West Broad Street," Lukridge said, "because they appear to be getting the most traffic, and we want to make the most obvious presence we can."

Last Tuesday when the strike began, teachers picketed at all nine district public schools, and the construction site of the future Souderton Area High School, but not this week.

"We were out there one day, where the new high school is under construction, but we found out that most of the laborers there were non-union and were not going to honor our picket line anyway," said Lukridge.

Teachers are out on the picket lines in three different shifts from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., but if bad weather like Tuesday's rain storms happens, they are free to seek safety.

"There are no rules about the number of days we have to be out there, just as long as we're picketing because we're on strike," Lukridge said.

"Regarding being on the school property, there are some laws we can't violate, but as far as picketing there are no laws that we are aware of," he said.

And if their numbers look a little smaller than that 448-17 strike vote taken two Thursdays ago, that's because teachers are up to other things too.

"Other teachers are performing non-picketing tasks, such as communications. We have a task force committee that has multiple jobs in it, and some of our members who are not out on the strike lines are members of our settlement task force, who are trying to get information out to people," Lukridge said.

Some of those committee members have been helping update the SAEA's Web site,

www.saea.info, which now features a Q&A section, salary and health-care facts, and updates on negotiation progress.

"Let's face it, we're at a disadvantage here. We don't have a public TV channel like the school district has, we don't have the opportunity to mail to everybody in the district, we don't have that database, so what we have to do is try to get that information out in other ways," Lukridge said.

For example, Lukridge said that statistics provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education show that the district collects the sixth-highest tax revenue in Montgomery County, but spends the least per student of the 22 county school districts.

"We can prove our side of the story by the PDE information," Lukridge said. "This is incontrovertible, the numbers that the school district has to supply to the PDE, and we're hoping that people can have that information that will back our position, or their position."

Are they seeing much support from the public? From some, but not from all, he said.

"We have bashers and we have backers, there are people who are supportive and people who aren't," he said.

"Striking is never a pleasant thing, and it's not what we really set out to do, but we think it's necessary to get us past this labor impasse," Lukridge said.

(thereporteronline.com)

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