Montrose board, MEA discuss negotiation

As the Montrose Area School District approaches two years without a teachers’ contract in place, board members up for re-election were asked pointedly by Montrose Education Association President Teri Evans why each believed constituents should cast their ballots for them.
The question, along with probing about the cost of the district’s special education solicitor services, prompted an open dialogue about the negotiations between teachers in attendance and members of the board.
A former board member and Bridgewater Twp. resident, Greg Sheer, said he would like to see a contract resolution. With only a certain amount in the budget, he offered, the contract should be made as “win-win” as possible.
He suggested the negotiations be opened up in a public forum where all of the teachers, board members and residents can come see them. “Residents could come back to the board – or conversely teachers that aren’t involved in the negotiations – and say, ‘You might want to bend some.’”
Board members said they would be happy to conduct negotiations in a public forum but noted there could be an issue with the back and forth dialogue in that situation.
Board member Richard Jordan said the district’s budget meetings are open to the public, but few attend. He urged MEA members to come to those. “I’ve asked (Evans) to tell me where the water is in that budget.”
Several MEA members cited there could have been funds in the budget that are eaten up by bond project payments.
Board members said the bonded capital improvement projects were necessary for the district facilities.
Board member Gloria Smith said there are garbage cans placed around some buildings to catch drips from a leaking ceiling. “Our kids deserve to have a safe, clean environment,” she said. “We have an obligation to maintain what we have at this school.”
Evans said her comment was not reflective of the entire MEA. But she noted, the district entered into a bond just as contract negotiations were beginning.
Smith said that if the district had not done the bond at that time, the district would not have gotten the low interest rate.
Jordan added that some of the old debt was retired with the bond issue, and the lower interest rate resulted in lower bond payments.
Jack Kiehl, a member of the MEA negotiation team, said the board has only offered one proposal since voting “no” to the non-binding arbitration finding, while the union has brought four.
Faculty member Todd Legg said, “Every other district in the county has figured it out.” Both Blue Ridge and Susquehanna Community settled their teachers’ contracts in the past year. “It’s a toxic environment. People don’t feel like they want to be here and they’re damn good people. Find the middle. You know what you need. We know what we need. Figure it out.”
Board member Paul Adams said he is only looking at how the proposals effect the district’s operating budget without losing programs in determining a “yes” or “no” vote. “Let’s find the money and figure out how to get this wrapped up,” he said. Adams is not a member of the board’s negotiation team.
Another MEA audience member said that it is difficult to find an agreement when proposals come back with language crossed out. “It gets in the way of productive negotiations,” she said.
One sticking point coming from language struck by the board in a professional development section was a limit on hours. Superintendent Carol Boyce said that was not intended and would look at that section.
Another audience member asked to board to consider the shrinking of the student body and perhaps offer retirement incentives, and not replacing those positions. “That would bring the staff size more in line with the student body,” she said.
A contract negotiation session is scheduled to be held this week.
In other business, the board approved the 2017-18 school calendar.
Teachers return on August 30, with students returning to the classroom on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

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