STATE COLLEGE — If you see a sign with the number “424+” on it at the Grange Fair later this week, it stands for the number of days State College Area teachers have worked without a contract.
It’s part of a mini-public relations campaign teachers union members are taking on to let the community know about the stalemate surrounding negotiations over a new contract. Those talks have been going on since well before the contract expired on June 30, 2011.
On Tuesday, day No. 424, more than 600 teachers filed into the North Building’s auditorium for an assembly on their first day of work for the 2012-13 school year. It was an in-service day.
And as the first day of classes Aug. 28 draws closer, all indications are that teachers will report to work and not strike.
The State College Area Education Association union has not asked the 595 members to vote on a strike, the union president said Tuesday. The district employs about 610 teachers.
But to drive home their message, union members showed up for the in-service day Tuesday wearing teal blue shirts with “quality education” on one line and “priceless” below it. The back of the T-shirts said “SCAEA,” the acronym for the union.
Members got an update during a brief, closed-door meeting, but union president Holli Jo Warner did not discuss the details of that gathering or the negotiations.
Contract talks started in January 2011 but didn’t materialize by the time the past school year started.
Since school ended in June of this year, the district and union officials have met eight times. It has not been made public what issues are keeping the sides from agreeing on a contract, as both the district and the union have pledged to keep the details private.
Both camps have said they’ve been negotiating in “good faith.”
“The most important component to a student’s success is their teacher,” Warner said. “We understand the district is struggling with the budget contracts put upon it by Harrisburg.”
District Superintendent Robert O’Donnell said he was impressed with the enthusiasm and energy teachers and support staffers brought with them to the in-service day.
Regarding contract talks, he said: “Every person in that auditorium wants to see an updated agreement reached.”
The last time contract negotiations stalled like this was in 1988, Warner said. Then, the union and the school board were at odds over salaries. The union voted to strike starting Sept. 6, 1988, and members picketed the district’s schools and administration building.
The union called off the strike Sept. 18 and accepted a new contract, with teachers netting several thousand dollars in raises over three years that amounted to a 38 percent pay increase. They had sought a 45 percent increase in pay over three years.
The teachers’ average salary after the 1988-1989 contract was approved was $30,269.
Now, the average salary for State College teachers is just over $66,200, the highest in the county.
Since the 1988 strike, the state has imposed regulations on teacher strikes. For instance, the sides must go into arbitration if a strike would prevent the district from providing 180 days of instruction.
Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT