Neshaminy, facing a teachers' strike, to resume talks tonight

Neshaminy School District residents show support for the school board and opposition to the teachers' union, which is scheduled to strike Monday, before Thursday's contract talks at Maple Point Middle School. (Bill Reed/Staff)

Negotiations in the four-year-old contract impasse between the Neshaminy School District and its teachers’ union will resume tonight, with a Monday strike hanging in the balance.

“We want to avoid a strike, and we will keep our members and our community informed of any progress,” Neshaminy Federation of Teachers President Louise Boyd said Wednesday  in a written statement. “Whether or not we strike is really in the district’s hands now.”

But both sides remain far apart on the main issues of salaries, retroactive pay and health-care contributions. School board President Ritchie Webb has said the district cannot afford an independent arbitrator’s “award,” which the board unanimously rejected, while union members approved it “with reservations.”

The 6 p.m. negotiating session will be the first in six months. The district suspended talks in January, when teachers went on strike for eight days. Then talks were put on hold while the contract went to non-binding arbitration.

Union members did not show up at Maple Point Middle School before the talks, as they usually do, to support their leaders. But about 55 residents, including a handful of students, hald signs at the school's two driveways to show their support for the school board and opposition to the union’s tactics.

"Im just fed up with it," organizer Michelle Fay said of the teachers' threat to strike and previous job actions. "They're taking it out on the kids." 

Several signs urged passing drivers to honk in support, prompting many long, loud blasts. 

A strike by the union’s 633 teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and nurses would push back the final day of school for the 7,000 students from June 15. It would disrupt final exams and family vacations.

By state law, the school year must be completed by June 30, without weekend classes. That means teachers could stay out about 10 days.

High school seniors are scheduled to take final exams next week, but they will be exempt from each test missed because of the strike, according to the district’s website. And their June 13 graduation will proceed as scheduled, according to the website.

The arbitrator’s award, issued May 2, included 50 percent of missed raises and credits for service and education from July 2008, when the contract expired, through June 2012. The recommendation would cost the district $9.2 million, Webb said

NFT members would get raises of 1 percent for the 2011-12 school year, followed by 1.5 percent, 2 percent, and 2.25 percent raises in ensuing years, based on the award. The lowest base salary in the expired contract is about $42,500.

For health care, the arbitrator recommended that NFT members pay 10 percent of their premiums starting July 1, 11 percent for the 2013-14 school year, and 12 percent the following year. The union has offered 8 percent; the school board has proposed 15 percent.