South Middleton School Board President Thomas Merlie is convinced a recent tactic by the teachers' union will backfire and not draw support from township residents.

The school district's teachers are working under a contract that expired in June 2012, and members of the South Middleton Education Association distributed fliers to those attending a recent basketball game and wrestling match.

One side of the flier listed five of the major sticking points in the contract talks and the other side listed names and phone numbers and invited residents to contact board members at home to voice their support of the teachers.

Though Merlie was not bothered about having his phone number out there, he said it wasn’t appropriate for the union to list them — one board member’s number listed on the flier was not published in the telephone book.

“I’m an elected official. My number is in the book,” he said. “I don’t believe it is a proper approach. I don’t believe you should negotiate in the court of public opinion. If the goal was to have the community call me at home, it was unsuccessful.”

Merlie said the few emails he received were from residents in favor of the school board and upset by the union publicizing home phone numbers.

Another avenue

Chief Negotiator Mike Freese sees it differently. “The vast majority of the feedback received from union members passing out the fliers was positive or neutral,” said Freese, a history teacher at Boiling Springs High School. “Some people said ‘No thank you.’”

Distributions were made outside the high school at two home events during the winter sports season, he said. “None other are scheduled at the present time.”

Freese explained how union leaders thought it would benefit the association to have the public be able to voice their opinions directly to school board members. They saw the distribution of fliers as just another avenue for the public to be involved.

Merlie said the fliers have not influenced the school board or district position in any way.

“We have updated the community through our website,” Merlie said. “We have not gotten specific with any of the issues at this point in time. We have preferred to keep it professional ... under wraps as much as we could until the fact-finding is done.”

Each side in this dispute made an hour-long presentation before a state fact-finder on Feb. 6. Merlie said the school board case included the testimony of experts on the latest trends in teacher salary and benefits.

“I am confident that the district presented its case very clearly and accurate,” Merlie said. “We gave a very good presentation that was factual and easily understood.”

Freese said the presentations focused on the sticking points of salary, employee contributions toward health care and the continued ability of employees to retain their spouses on health insurance.

“The fact-finder was attentive,” Freese said. “He seemed to ask questions for clarification for both sides. We look forward to seeing what he has to say in this report.”

Wait and see

The fact-finder has until Feb. 25 to issue a final report in this case. Within 10 days, both sides are required to vote on whether to accept its findings, Freese said. “We have a tentative date for March 5.”

There is talk of both sides voting on the report on the same day, Freese said. He said that for this to take place, the board may have to reschedule its regular March 4 meeting or schedule a special meeting on March 5.

“Sooner or later, all of the issues will come out not only to the community, but to the teachers as a whole,” Merlie said. “We prefer to wait and let the fact-finding process run its course before we publicize any issues.”

Contract talks began on Dec. 22, 2011 or about six months before the old contract was set to expire on June 30, 2012. The parties reached a tentative agreement in September 2012, but it was rejected by a majority of the union membership.

After gathering information from union members, the union negotiating team returned to the table last November to discuss the sticking points, Freese said. He said the parties were unable to resolve their differences and reach a tentative agreement during the last negotiation session on Dec. 19. This prompted the union to request the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to appoint the fact-finder.

The union represents 161 teachers, librarians, nurses and other faculty in the district’s four school buildings.

(12) comments

Zeldana

Teacher's Unions-the new Mafia! How does a public employee, paid by taxpayer money have the power to squeeze and extort money from said taxpayer to the detriment of school chilldren? Because their already bloated pensions, marginal contirbutions to their health coverage is not enough? Teachers already have protection fom being fired for marginal performance, unlike the rest of us who can be fired ! Isn't tenure, your pensions and a 9 month work year enough for you folks?

pystil

Zeldana so what do you do for a living? Were you paid the right amount fro what you did or did you think you deserved more than what you were paid. How were you evaluated? Have you always had a boss that was fair and objective when assessing your skills and competence. These teachers feel they are worth more as due to inflation A $100 does not buy as much this year as it did last year or the year before.

pystil

Is the board not using the tactic of delaying a contract settlement. Why was this contract not settled before it expired. The board always like to delay as keeping the money in their account earns interest. Both sides should have binding arbitration with both sides submitting their last best offer.

Carlislepa

Have you seen the interest rates lately, I doubt seriously if the board is looking at this from a financial gain situation, besides, there was an agreement reached, the union rank and file refused to accept it and so off to arbitration it went. Unions of all sorts believe they are underpaid and overworked, it's kinda like the President refusing to acknowledge we have a spending problem, just print more moiney, raise more taxes.

BobB

Mr. Cress needs to check his facts before printing.I got one of these flyers at the wrestling match and disagree with the statement that it listed the sticking points on one side and contact info on the other.One side had contact info but the other LISTED FACTS concerning the way the teachers are treated in South Middleton.There was no listing of sticking points and it seems to me Mr Merlie is slanting the facts to reflect poorly on the teachers. The flyer was informative and nothing more.

bike20017

PA state employees (to include teachers) pensions are now calculated as follows:

(Years worked) X (Ending Salary) X 2.5% (multiplier)

So, if a teacher puts in 40 years on the job (retiring at say age 62) - they'll make just as much money in retirement - per year - as when they were working full time. E.g., getting paid the same for NOT working, as what they made when they were working.

Where's the "fairness" and "shared sacrifice" in that - while most either get 1%/year or nothing. Wake-up!

fedupbubbler

Clearly Merlie doesn't understand the definition of "public official." When you are elected to an office, you become a public official. That means what you say is on the record. That means the public (IE the voters who put you in office) are entitled access to you. Your address and phone number are key to that access. If he doesn't want his information public, he shouldn't be sitting on a board.

Carl Lyle

His office is at the school district and that is where he should be contacted. Do you have the president's personal residence phone number, is it in the phone book. After all, he is an elected official. You should be able to call him anytime, unless he's on the golf course.

Carlislepa

Zeldana is exactly correct, the time has long past for school boards to stop giving in to lucrative contract expenditures. Increases in salary should be based on individual performance results, Pensions should be capped, Tenure should be withdrawn, it's an incentive to be lazy and schools should be open the year round, perhaps then our students will move up the ladder in educational standing throughout the world and not in 25th place.

4wheeler

Pystil must be a teacher. Zelda is correct. Let a teacher go out in the the private sector and work 12 months out of the year, pay for most of their healthcare, not have a guaranteed cushy pension, not be tenured and if their performance isn't up to par lose their job. I bet then all teachers would actually appreciate what they have and not complain all of the time. I believe tax payers have had enough. I agree that some school districts are underpaid, but look at it this way, You have a job

michael

SM teachers are underpaid? Really? Maybe one of them wants to live on the small pension I have coming at age 65..................High time a school board stands up to the union thugs. That's right THUGS.
And yes, I am glad to have that, it is more than many have, but SOME of us are grateful for what they have. Let me know which teachers want to live on 10K a year at retirement.......that's what I thought,

BobB

We don't even know details of anything because they are "under wraps" as Mr Merlie says so why are we bad mouthing the teachers ? Could it maybe, just maybe,be that Mr Merlie and his personal agenda are to blame for current situation? Why all the secrecy?

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