Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Neshaminy seniors party while teachers picket

Some students made sure to get teachers to sign their yearbooks.

Neshaminy seniors party while teachers picket

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Maria Zeigler (center) gets her yearbook signed by sociology teacher Richard Greenberg during Neshaminy's Senior Picnic on Friday. (Bill Reed/Staff)

Neshaminy High School seniors tossed footballs, bounced on inflatables and ate ice cream Friday at the annual Senior Picnic, as teachers continued picketing on Day 5 of their strike against the district.

Some students took time out from the festivities to have teachers sign their yearbooks, and teachers happily took a break from demonstrating at the entrance to the Langhorne campus.

“I want to see all my teachers – they’re my role models,” Maria Zeigler said as sociology teacher Richard Greenberg signed her yearbook.

Spanish teacher Dianna Jennings congratulated Will Murphy and two of his classmates, who she taught at Carl Sandburg Middle School.

“There’s hope that he’ll be a Spanish teacher some day,” Jennings said, laughing as she signed Murphy’s yearbook.

Turnout for the picnic was normal, with about 600 of the class of nearly 700 showing up, principal Rob McGee said.

With a DJ’s music blaring, students sat in circles, swapping stories and yearbooks, while others lined up for pizza, chicken sandwiches and soft pretzels.

“I’m glad the kids have connections to their teachers,” McGee said, watching a steady trickle of students crossing the lawn to and from the pickets. “I’d be worried if they didn’t have a connection.”

Before the picnic, students were given final instructions for Monday’s rehearsal and Wednesday’s graduation. They cleaned out their lockers, were reminded to complete forms for transcripts to be sent to colleges, and signed up for final exams they missed because schools have been closed for the strike. Seniors were excused from finals, but students who want or need to improve their grade will take tests before graduation, McGee said.

The graduating class has endured this strike and an eight-day walkout in January. There also have been work-to-contract job actions, during which teachers declined to show up early or stay late or to participate in Back to School nights or other after-school events.

Teachers will not attend graduation if the strike is still on, a union spokeswoman said. 

“They’re a great bunch of kids – very resilient,” McGee said. “They’ve been through a lot.”

Keri Morozin said the contract impasse, which has dragged on for nearly four years, did not affect her senior year.

“They made sure we’re graduating on time, and we still have our picnic,” she said. “It affected students who needed extra help and who needed letters of recommendation” last year.

The strike by the 633-member Neshaminy Federation of Teachers “will go on as long as allowed by law,” a union spokesman said. The state has set a June 15 deadline for classes to resume, with Kindergarten classes starting a day earlier.  

Based on those dates, the school year will extend through June 29.    

The teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and nurses have not received a raise since 2008, working under the terms of an expired contract the school board says it can no longer afford.

The district refuses to provide retroactive pay for experience and education, and says the union must contribute more than its proposed 8 percent of the first-year’s health care premiums each year.  The teachers have never contributed to their health care.

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About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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