WAYNESBORO, Pa.—A crowd of close to 100 teachers and parents filled the gymnasium inside Summitview Elementary School for Tuesday night's Waynesboro Area School Board meeting, with many expressing their opinions on the lack of progress toward a new teachers' contract.
"We want (the board) to see us and hear us," said Jessica Bryan, president of the Waynesboro Area Education Association. "But more importantly, we wanted them to see and hear the community members."
The previous contract between the teachers union and the school district expired at the end of the 2009-10 school year. It was a three-year contract with a one-year extension.
After a brief public comment period where one teacher urged the board to "let our community and its taxpayers know that we respect and admire our professional educators," board Vice President Leland Lemley presented facts and figures as to why the board could not agree to the most recent fact-finder's report of a new three-year contract, which was approved by the WAEA, but denied by the board in December.
Questions were raised previously about the district's reserve fund balance of $3.2 million and why it could not be used to fund salary increases for the teachers. Lemley used a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate why it was not feasible.
If all professional employees — teachers and administrators — were to receive pay increases of 3 percent in 2010-11 and 3.5 percent in each of the following years, it would not only deplete the district's fund balance by the 2012-13 fiscal year, it would cause a $1.6 million unfunded liability for the district, Lemley said.
"We would have totally depleted our fund balance if we used it for nothing else in the district," Lemley said. "It would decimate this district."
During his presentation, teachers and parents turned it into an impromptu open forum and began shouting out questions and concerns. The scene became somewhat heated at times, but Lemley countered that the board would have no choice but to significantly raise taxes, cut large amounts of jobs or a combination of the two.
"Some people in this room may not be here at the end of this process," Lemley said.
The slow-moving economy, drying-up federal stimulus dollars and a lack of information from the state pose the biggest challenges for board members in planning its 2011-12 spending plan. Although it depends on exactly how much state funding the district will receive in next year's budget, the district is currently facing a potential $1.5 million deficit, Lemley said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is not due to release the state's preliminary budget until next month, leaving school districts across the state estimating their revenue streams for 2011-12.
Numerous concerned parents were in attendance at the meeting, urging both sides to work toward a resolution so it does not negatively affect the children in the district.
WAEA leadership has the option to launch a strike, but has not yet acted, union officials said.
One parent suggested that the two sides try to come to an agreement on a one-year contract, which could then be revisited each year to see if the economy were to turn around.
The board and union, who have not met since December, are set to meet again on Thursday, Bryan said.
"We have not gotten a compromise yet from the board" in more than 10 months of bartering, she said.