9/5/08

Striking teachers picket PA school district

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical start to school year in labor-state

Day two of the teachers strike in the Souderton Area School District has brought no progress toward resolving the dispute between the district's school board and the Souderton Area Education Association, the teachers union still picketing district schools.

"We did not have another meeting to negotiate today," said SAEA head Bill Lukridge,

"Jill Rivera, the state-appointed mediator, called Gary Smith, our negotiator, and asked if we could, and we're willing and able to meet at any time," he said.

That mediator has also been in touch with school district negotiator Jeffrey Sultanik, but he agreed Wednesday morning that no meeting dates have been set.

"I was actually expecting another phone call from the mediator today, but I spoke with her a few minutes ago and so far there is no meeting today," Sultanik said.

While the two parties have found no time or place to negotiate face to face, both sides had a thing or two to say about why the district's sports teams are still playing games while school district classes are not in session.

"First of all, you have to understand that people who are coaches are not all union members, and they're not all teachers, so they would not be bound by a work stoppage," said Sultanik.

Last month, the school board approved supplemental contracts totaling more than $135,000 for 37 coaches and instructors.

Nineteen of those contracts are for district employees from Souderton Area High School and four more are employed at Indian Crest Junior High School.

"We would prefer that they not cross the picket lines, obviously," said Rob Broderick, spokesman for the SAEA.

"Certainly people can interpret that as sports being more important than academics, and that is unfortunate, but it's totally the district's call," he said.

School district Superintendent Charles Amuso said that the district's intention is to offer every thing possible to students, noting the contracts for sports coaches and directors are separate from the bargaining agreement with the union.

"That's settled, and those contracts are signed, so it's up to the coaches. We're not going to shut out students from (sports) programs they want to participate in," Amuso said.

All of the district's athletic programs are still being offered because enough coaches are available and willing to handle those programs, Amuso said.

"I would like to offer as much as we can for our students; they want to get back involved in school activities, and the sports aspect, those contracts are settled differently from the teachers contracts," he said.

Requests for comment from high school athletic director Tom Quintois were not answered by press time on Wednesday, but Sultanik had a different take to share.

"I think the teachers union should be the one addressing that issue," Sultanik said, "and I think the question becomes whether or not certain students should also be hurt if their coach is one of the ones who is there and ready to coach children."

The district's strike contingency plan announced on Monday states that all decisions on sports will be made on a case-by-case basis.

"Remember that many of those students may be eligible for scholarships and the like, and could get hurt as much as students in the educational process if they're deprived of scholarship opportunities for their sports," Sultanik said.

Broderick, the SAEA spokesman, disagreed that the teachers were the only group making sports decisions.

"The board is in total control of this agenda, and we don't think they should have these activities going on while there's a strike going on, but there's no law that prevents that," he said.

Meanwhile, the debate on the strike rages on at The Reporter's Web site. The online comment section has seen more than 60 reader comments posted since last Thursday night's school board meeting, 26 of those coming since the strike began at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

(thereporteronline.com)

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