State College Area school board votes to accept fact-finder report with recommendations for a new teachers’ contract

A report from a state-appointed arbitrator that was to end the two-year stalemate between State College Area teachers and the district over a new contract passed an important hurdle Monday, as the school board accepted the report.

The vote passed 6-3, with school board members Amber Concepción, Jim Pawelczyk and Laurel Zydney voting against it.

The union president called the approval a positive move, as the focus now shifts to the nearly 600 teachers in the State College Area Education Association who will review the 38-page report Tuesday after school. If the teachers reject it, the report will go public. If the teachers accept it, the recommendations become the basis for a new contract.

A female teacher watching the vote on a TV in the overflow area in the hallway of the administration building cheered as the board approved it.

Before the board approved it, the outlook seem grim. Some board members said they were not satisfied, others said they wanted the public to weigh in, but others said it was time to move forward.

School Director Dorothea Stahl, who made the motion to accept it, said she was willing to support the progress the sides had made.

Director Ann McGlaughlin said some of the recommendations were welcome because they would benefit the district. Others would “force the district to make tough decisions,” she said.

“I don’t take that lightly,” she said, also noting she did not want the process to appear adversarial.

Director Jim Leous said he was concerned about whether the recommendations were affordable but was inclined to accept the report. Director Gowen Roper said the district did not get everything its officials wanted and called the report a compromise.

Board President Penni Fishbaine sounded as though she was going to vote against the report, saying that she was concerned about the affordability of it and wanted the public to have a chance to see the fact-finder’s report. But she ended up voting in favor.

“We have some good things to look forward to in the future,” she said before the vote. “But we will also need to make some difficult decisions.”

Concepción, the board vice president, was another who said she wanted the public to have a chance to weigh in about the recommendations and voted against it.

As the teachers’ union is set to analyze the report, President Holli Jo Warner said the board’s approval pushes forward a process that has seen little progress over two years.

“The fact-finding process did manage to create momentum and did create some movement here,” Warner said.

“That is a positive thing.”

Warner said the union members could spend several hours reviewing the report on Tuesday. She does not know if the union will vote on Tuesday but said it is possible.

Warner declined to talk about the issues that were outlined in the report, but she did say that teachers across the country are facing rising health care costs. She also said State College Area teachers work 190 days a year, and that was not something forwarded to the fact-finder for his report, she said.

The teachers have been without a contract since June 30, 2011.

Negotiations started in January 2011, and the fact-finder was appointed after 30 face-to-face meetings did not result in an agreement.

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