Resolution or rejection? State College Area school board to mull merit of fact-finding report; vote set for Monday

Two years of gridlock over a new contract between State College Area teachers and the district will come to a head Monday night.

The State College Area school board will vote to accept or reject a report from a state-appointed arbitrator, who drafted recommendations as a way to resolve the contract dispute. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the board room of the Nittany Avenue administration building.

The issues that have held up an agreement are not known, as both sides agreed to keep the nature of their talks confidential throughout the process.

The report was delivered to the district and the teachers’ union last week, and they have until Thursday to vote. If both sides accept the report, the recommendations in the report become the basis for the new contract.

But if either side rejects the report, the report is made public and people will be able to see what the recommendations were and explanations as to why the fact-finder recommended what he did.

Holli Jo Warner, the president of the State College Area Education Association, said the union will meet Tuesday afternoon to review the 38-page report. She does not know if the teachers will vote on Tuesday or later, and she said she has to notify the state of the vote before the result of the vote is made public.

The union needs a majority of their nearly 600 members for a vote to pass.

If one or both of the sides reject the report, a new 10-day period kicks in, and the sides can reconsider accepting the report. The theory behind that, Warner said, is to give the public a chance to read the report and give feedback.

The contract expired June 30, 2011, and the teachers worked the 2011-12 school year without a contract and returned to work for 2012-13 still without a contract. The teachers’ in-service day to start this school year saw them sporting teal blue shirts that read “quality education” and “priceless” in a show of solidarity.

The fact-finder was apparently the last resort. The sides had gone through 30 face-to-face meetings without an agreement, and the district asked the state Labor Relations Board to appoint the fact-finder in late 2011.

The cost to use a fact-finder was $3,745.40, said district spokeswoman Julie Miller.

The district splits half of the cost with the teachers’ union, or $936.35 each, and the state picks up the other half, $1,872.70.