2011-05-19 / Front Page

Forbes Board, Teachers Settle Two-Year Contract Dispute

Final agreement OK’d in special meeting last Thursday
By Jean Snyder
STAFF WRITER

After two years of negotiations, the Forbes Road School District Board of Directors and the teachers union finally came to a three-year agreement that was accepted at a five-minute special meeting held last Thursday evening. The agreement comes after the board voted twice in the past two years of negotiations to reject Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board factfinder’s recommendations

According to Forbes Road Superintendent Fred Foster, the collective bargaining agreement, which will run retroactively from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2012, focused on two main topics, salary and healthcare.

Foster said the agreement included a one-year freeze for teachers and a $750 increase in years two and three. This is an approximate 50 percent reduction of staff increases over the history of negotiations. The factfinder’s report had recommended a salary schedule that would have granted an annual average increase of $1,600 per employee or about 3.8 percent, while the district had proposed freezing salaries over the course of the three-year contract.

With regard to health insurance, it was agreed to keep the 5 percent premium share by employees; however, a higher deductible for members is included in the new plan, effective July 1, 2011. According to Foster, the higher deductible to members lowers the overall cost to the district. The district had sought to raise the employee contribution for healthcare from 5 percent to 15 percent, while the fact-finder had recommended that the contribution remain at 5 percent.

Other topics related to the agreement included an extra workday for professional staff, and increased time in the teacher’s length of school day.

In discussing what was clearly a give-and-take settlement to the lengthy negotiations, Lisa Black, president of the Forbes Road Educational Association (the teachers union), said, “Two years is a long time. As one of a handful of districts without a salary schedule, we still made concessions in response to a pressing economy. Honestly, we’re relieved to put this behind us and redirect to the heart of what we love to do, which is teach. Our people have a passion for their work; not once during that time did they lose focus on the kids. They consistently volunteer their time to a school community they value. In light of a harsh budget they clearly ratified a package that included a pay freeze and slight increases.”

In discussing the agreement, Foster said, “In these tough economic times both sides reviewed and analyzed many topics within the collective bargaining agreement. A reduction in state aid to public schools, as well as increased healthcare costs has caused many districts throughout the state to furlough teachers, eliminate programs and close buildings. Forbes Road was able to maintain all of its programs as well as present a budget with no tax increase for the 2011-12 school year. When we reviewed our five-year plan, we realized tough times were ahead, so we immediately established budget reduction strategies. We will continue to review transportation, energy and personnel decisions to ensure the most efficient and effective process. Our goal is not only to ensure survivability, but also growth for our students to make sure they are prepared for the global economy they will face.”

Foster went on to say “Credit is to be given to the board of directors and past superintendents (Dr. Merrill Arnold, Larry Palmer) who had established a solid financial foundation to keep the district strong in these tough times.”

Foster concluded, “Both the board and teachers kept the focus on the best interests of the students as well as the residents of the district.”

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