Beaver Local teachers authorize strike notice

LISBON – Beaver Local teachers are prepared to go on strike the first day of the 2013-14 school year unless a new contract is reached.

Jodi Haylett, spokeswoman for the Beaver Local Education Association, issued a news release Sunday stating the 130 union members recently voted to authorize a 10-day strike notice, to be served at a time “as the team deems necessary.” Should it come to that, the union would choose to go on strike Aug. 26, the first day of class for the new school year.

Haylett, a science teacher at Beaver Local High School, said they have been working without a contract since the most recent agreement expired last September – a one-year stopgap measure agreed to while the district worked to emerge from state fiscal emergency.

“We are really disappointed that it has come to this. We have worked really hard over the past year to find common ground with the school board, not just over salary issues, but also about new state-mandated evaluation procedures and the process for (layoffs),” she said.

Haylett was referring to the state law that requires districts to develop new teacher evaluation procedures, with evaluations linked to student test scores. Since the new evaluations are scheduled to take effect at the start of the school year, she said the BLEA could not let negotiations continue to drag on.

Under the one-year contract extension that expired last year, teachers agreed to a pay freeze but continued to receive step raises based on years of service and a $200 longevity bonus for those who do not qualify for a step increase. Union members received 3 percent annual raises under the three-year agreement in place prior to the extension.

The union also agreed under the expired contract to pay more for health insurance and to reduce the number of accumulated severance days they can collect from 120 to 90 days, although workers can earn five and 10 bonus days depending on their attendance over three years.

The concessions were estimated to save the district a combined $312,696.

“We gave concessions in our last contract, and like many others, our members and families are hurting,” Haylett said.

“Our members do not want to strike. They want to start a new school year and continue to provide the children of Beaver Local with the same top-quality education our district has come to be known for. But we can’t do that without a contract that lets our members know how they will be evaluated, and without a fair and objective process that helps teachers grow. Nor can we be expected to do more work, with much higher stakes, on salaries that continue to stagnate,” she said.

The only school official who could be reached for comment Sunday evening was board member Greg Eisenhart, who said he is not on the negotiating committee and was unaware of the strike notice. Having said that, Eisenhart is hopeful the parties will be able to come to an agreement.

The school board meets tonight, and Eisenhart said he expects Superintendent Kent Polen will brief them on negotiations.

Polen was reached later Sunday night and said he “could not comment as I have no knowledge” of the BLEA news release.

The BLEA represents teachers, guidance counselors, media specialists and school nurse.