No settlement yet in U-CF

Unionville-Chadds Ford school teachers and board members remain at an impasse in contract negotiations.

Board members said during their Feb. 22 meeting that they’ve made concessions on salary that they think should satisfy the teachers, but the union head said they’re still too far apart on pay-grade step increases and health benefits.

The board accepted a fact-finder’s non-binding recommendations two weeks ago, but the teachers have twice rejected the report despite being the group that asked for the fact-finding process.

“Nothing much has changed,” said board member Frank Murphy regarding the negotiations.

Several members expressed dismay that negotiations remain at a standstill.

Jeff Hellrung said the board accepted the findings that gave pay raises, kept benefits intact and included step movement despite the tight economy.

“On the economic side, the fact-finder awarded modest pay increases to the teachers, including scale movement, though not a year for year scale movement…and preserved all the key benefits,” Hellrung said.

“It says something that the board unanimously approved this contract [proposal], willing to compromise, seeking peace, three-year security,” he continued. “I just have to ask the teachers: Isn’t a three-year contract like that, the end of any labor conflict, the security of a three-year in very turbulent economic times, isn’t that worth something?”

“We wanted a contract that shows teachers we respect them…but we have to show taxpayers we respect them, too,” Keith Knauss said during the meeting.

In an interview after the session, Knauss said the board was willing to put “a few extra dollars on the table to get labor peace. We want to make the teachers comfortable with their jobs. We want to make the parents secure in knowing that their kids are going to get educated and we want to put that business behind.”

Yet, the step increases and health benefits remain issues with the teachers’ union.

Pat Clark, the teacher representative for the U-CF Education Association said the fact-finder’s salary matrix “half step” and health insurances economic proposals are major impediments to contract settlement.

Clark said the union has proposed maintaining a comparable health insurance plan with the teacher’s increasing their contribution toward the cost of insurance, but the proposed “half step” would essentially double the time a new teacher will have to teach to reach the top of the pay scale, which would be 32 years instead of 16.

He did add, however, that some teachers have agreed to several freezes along the way so the process could take 20 years.

“I think that if we started talking about step movement for our members, that we could make some progress,” Clark said.

Teachers have been working under status quo since the expiration of the contract last June. Knauss said that could go on indefinitely.

In terms of dollars, the board agreed to increases of 1.34 percent, 0.71 percent and 2.38 percent during the contract period. When benefits are included, those percentages jump to 2.99, 2.17 and 5.5 percent respectively.

The union proposal is 2.44, 3.57 and 3.92 percent in dollars only, but 4, 5.8 and 6.98 percent increases with benefits factored in.

The school district Web page (ucfsd.org) will post updates on the status of the teacher contract negotiations and the school budget.

Other business

• Hillendale Elementary School fifth-grader Mahalet Tegenu was honored for her pencil drive that provided pencils for students in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,

• The board met in the newly renovated LGI at Hillendale. Four parents and the head custodian at the school were honored for their work in the renovation project.

• The 2011 Unionville High School annual used book sale will be held this Friday and Saturday, Feb. 25-26, in the high school gym. The Friday sale hours are 5 – 9 p.m. Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. An $8 (cash only) per bag bargain sale will held between 3 and 5 p.m. Book sale volunteers will provide the bags.

The used book sale has been very well attended for many years and it is a major fund-raiser for Unionville High School. The UHS used book sale typically sells 80,000 books donated by residents of the Unionville–Chadds Ford school district. Typically there are approximately 20,000 children’s books available. Volunteers have worked hundreds of hours collecting and sorting the books into numerous genre categories.

Refreshments will also be available for purchase during the book sale.

The Unionville High School reminds used book sale visitors that the high school is under construction. Drive carefully.

* Jim Phreaner provided content for this story.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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