NEW BETHLEHEM – Redbank Valley School District teachers, now into their third school year without a contract, issued notification last Friday that barring a resolution this week, the teachers would go on strike on Monday, Sept. 13.
The Redbank Valley Education Association, which represents the teachers, authorized their negotiating team to issue a strike notice in November 2020, and again at the beginning of this school year after two-and-a-half years of contract talks with the district have proved unfruitful.
“On Aug. 30, 2021, the association submitted a proposal to the district including health insurance and salary concessions saving the district nearly $1 million dollars over the life of the contract,” the RVEA said in a statement issued on Friday. “The district refused to accept our proposal, did not offer a counter proposal, and has not offered dates to meet. After 800 days without a contract, the association has been given no choice but to issue our strike notification for Monday, Sept. 13.”
In a followup statement from Patrick Andrekovich, UniServ Representative with the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents Redbank’s teachers and support staff, he notes that both unions “were disappointed to attend another fruitless bargaining session with the district on Aug. 30.”
“With an imminent strike looming, the board arrived unprepared to negotiate with no paper, pencil or written proposal prepared for either group,” according to the statement, which added that Dr. Chad Shaffer, the chairman of the school board’s negotiating committee, “seems more interested in writing misleading letters to the editor than spending time preparing to negotiate.”
The teachers’ statement says that the association “came prepared to negotiate with a new proposal consisting of 11 items, eight of which were items the board proposed at the Aug. 3 meeting. Attempting to avoid a work stoppage and address Dr. Shaffer’s concerns, the association’s proposal included a two-year wage scale freeze (third in 10 years), switching dental insurance providers, implementation of the 10 percent HSA contribution reduction and phasing in co-pays over three years as he is demanding.”
“The combined savings from the salary freezes, the elimination of the Art, Music, Librarian, Dean of Students and the association’s proposed health care concessions would save the district approximately $1.2 million over the life of the contract,” Redbank teachers stated. “This was clearly a good-faith attempt by the association to avoid a strike and reach a settlement.”
The teachers also claimed that the “one-time signing bonus payments and HSA contributions Dr. Shaffer cited in his letter to the editor will be paid with ESSER/Stimulus funds the district will receive over the next three years. By using ESSER money and the fact they are not recurring expenses, they will have no impact on the budget or local property taxes. Within the $3.5 million RVSD will receive in ESSER funding, there is money specifically designated to be utilized for employee salaries. Dr. Shaffer also omitted the nearly $300,000 in savings the district will receive during Year 2 of the proposal by eliminating the Art teacher, Music teacher, Librarian and the Dean of Students positions.”
“After the association presented their proposal, the RVEA and RVESP teams waited for nearly an hour in hopes of a response from the board,” the teachers’ statement continued. “Sadly, when the board returned it was more of the Dr. Chad Shaffer show. The board returned with no counter-proposal and Dr. Shaffer asked for even more concessions in health insurance. When the association asked for a response on the entire proposal, Dr. Shaffer took his ball and went home.”
The statement from the Redbank teachers claims that Shaffer is “more concerned with ‘winning’ than he is about the impact this will have on the students at the Redbank Valley School District. As he stated in a recent bargaining session, he is willing to allow a strike to occur to save $13,000! He and the board would prefer to pay nearly $100,000 to attorneys and consultants than to the people that educate the students of RVSD.”
The teachers’ union concluded its statement by noting that they realize “these are challenging times and our proposal reflects the current economic situation. Many RVEA members live in the district and send their children to RVSD and want to be able to attract and retain the best people possible. Our proposal includes a modest increase, health care concessions aimed at containing costs, and provisions that will benefit the safety and well-being of our students. There is no reason a settlement can’t be reached quickly.”
They encouraged residents to contact their school board representatives to “insist that they take the recent proposal back for a vote and avoid the strike.”
Following the statement from the RVEA, Shaffer issued a response from the district, noting that when the two sides met on Aug. 30, the district was prepared to also meet with the support staff, however that group declined to meet that evening.
“We received a proposal from the teachers for them to receive $3,000 in bonuses for each teacher in addition to step wage increases factored in for each of the first two years of the contract and 2.5 percent in annual salary increase for each of the final three years of the contract,” Shaffer wrote. “The teachers also asked for a gradual implementation of some co-pays over the next three years, but remained unwilling to accept any co-pays for physician office visits and urgent care visits. They were willing to accept co-pays as follows: $125 ER, $20 spinal manipulation, $15 specialist office visit, $15 allergy extract shot, $20 brand name medication with free generic medicine, and a mandatory mail order pharmacy program. They were willing to add a $10 diagnostic service co-pay next year and a $10 physical and occupation therapy co-pay the following year. Additionally, the association asked for all co-pays to be eliminated at the end of the contract.”
Shaffer said that the district needed more time for a cost analysis of the “new and unique” proposal from the teachers, and that “we were not in a position to respond on Monday [Aug. 30], but could schedule another meeting in a couple of weeks, after we had an opportunity to run the cost calculations.”
“While we were unable to address the teachers’ wage proposal on Aug. 30, we were able to discuss their co-pay proposal,” Shaffer wrote. “The district countered the teachers’ proposal by suggesting no co-pays in contract Years 1 and 2 which have already passed, followed by initiating co-pays this year amounting to $125 ER, $10 physician office visit, $10 urgent care visit, $15 specialist visit, $20 brand name medicine with free generic medicine, and a mandatory mail order pharmacy program. Next year, we would add a $20 spinal manipulation co-pay and increase physician office visit and urgent care co-pays to $20. The following year, we would add a $10 physical and occupational therapy co-pay.”
“In summary, the district was willing to gradually implement co-pays and offered not to have co-pays for diagnostic and allergy services, in exchange for including physical office visits and urgent care co-pays,” Shaffer wrote. “We also responded that we were unwilling to have the co-pays end at the conclusion of the contract, but we would work with them to find other health insurance provider options in the future.”
Shaffer said that after reviewing the district’s counterproposal in a private caucus, the association informed the district that it would not respond to our co-pay proposal that night.
“The parties agreed to schedule another meeting in mid-September once the district had an opportunity to run the wage cost calculations,” Shaffer wrote. “We have subsequently determined that even raising taxes to the maximum allowable projected level each year would not be able to pay for the teachers’ proposal coupled with the support staff’s last proposal. The district seeks to limit annual expense increases to the amount of additional revenue it can bring in each year at the end of the contract. Nonetheless, we were preparing to meet again and provide a progressive counterproposal this month, but unfortunately, an employee strike notice has been given.
“We lament the disruption to student learning and family life,” Shaffer concluded. “Just as strongly though, we feel our directive to maintain financial solvency for the district is critical to current and future students, as well as our community.”