Program could connect Bellefonte Area school board and teachers union

The Bellefonte Area school board wants to be the catalyst for a plan that helps bridge the gap between the board and the teachers union.

At a school board meeting Tuesday night, board President Rodney Musser introduced information about a program that helps ease tension between the entities, especially during formal contract negotiations. The Conrad Weiser Area School District in west Berks County participates in such a program.

BASD school board president introduces possible plan to help bridge gap between board members and teachers union

Musser proposed an idea to create a similar program at Bellefonte Area that some board members agreed would be beneficial to both sides, and that Bellefonte Area Education Association President Kim Sharp said would likely get support from other staff members.

“I want to at least plant the seed for perhaps doing this in the future,” Musser said.

The plan would allow board members to meet with members of the BAEA during regular social meetings through the year before official contract negotiations begin.

“We can all attend these kinds of things as long as we’re not talking about school board business,” Musser said.

The goal, Musser said, would to keep dialog transparent, and have open and non-combative communication so issues are resolved before formal contract negotiations begin.

It’s all about communicating, it’s all about talking about things in advance.

Rodney Musser, board president

“It’s all about communicating, it’s all about talking about things in advance,” Musser said.

A large chunk of the discussions would likely be about salaries and health care, but Musser said everyone could come with suggestions.

“When we have this communication, we don’t want to make it seem as though we’re backed up against a corner, or they’re backed up against a corner,” Musser said.

Board member Mike Danneker agreed.

“There always comes a timeline, and once the timeline is struck, personalities step out and people start becoming very defensive and it can become a bad situation,” Danneker said. “It’s a process that starts out bitter right out of the gate, so it would be nice to have that opportunity to humanize it, to slowly get our heads wrapped around it and work our way into it the process.”

BAEA president said she thinks program will get a good response from teachers, staff

While no plans are yet in action, Sharp said the idea to create a program like this is a step in the right direction.

“I can only give my thoughts on what I think they might feel toward that, but I think they’d be very open toward all the ideas,” Sharp said. “I already made contact to find out more on our own end, and I’ll definitely start putting feelers out.”

Sharp said talks among other members of the district since late last school year have been “amazing experiences.”

“The association has a longstanding history of meeting monthly with the superintendent (Michelle Saylor) and that is a huge outlet for us to brainstorm (and) solve problems, and that is going phenomenally with Dr. Saylor,” Sharp said.

Members of BAEA also work closely with the district’s human resource director, Michelle Simpson, which Sharp said is “really powerful.”

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo