BY STACI WILSON
Blue Ridge educators held a mini-picket before the Monday, April 4 school board meeting. Members of the teachers’ union handed out information illustrating their position in the ongoing contract dispute with the district.
Blue Ridge Education Association president Trish Gilboy said the teachers wanted to make the Association’s side of the story public. BREA initially planned to strike on March 29, but with some progress in negotiations, moved the strike date to April 25.
With some movement on negotiations in the past month, health care remains one of the main sticking points.
Gilboy said the teachers do pay into their health care plan, but she said, in the past five years the premium share paid has eaten up teachers’ pay increases.
“Many teachers have gone five years with no real raise,” Gilboy said, adding that many educators were actually making less money.
She also noted that the 10 percent paid for health care by Blue Ridge teachers is a higher rate than other districts in Susquehanna and Lackawanna counties.
“We wish we weren’t here. We hope we don’t strike on April 25,” Gilboy said.
A contract negotiation session between BREA and the board’s negotiation team has been scheduled for next week.
Blue Ridge resident Jaelynne Goff expressed concern with the status of negotiations. She told the board she believed a fair salary and benefit package could be settled before the strike date.
“I know a vast majority of the teachers and what they do here,” Goff said. “They love this community and our students.”
She urged the board to consider moving to a flat rate insurance plan as requested by BREA.
“A solution needs to be (found) to bring balance back to the district, students and community,” Goff said.
Board president Chris Lewis said negotiations center around salary and health care. He said the average salary of district residents was about $45,000, while the average teacher in the district is paid $55,000 with no big businesses adding to the tax base.
Lewis also said negotiations had been dragged out for two years, but the board’s new negotiation team had met with BREA seven times.
“We think the offers have been fair,” Lewis said.
In other business, the board approved Mary Clinton as the district Athletic Director, effective April 5, for the remainder of the school year.