Coatesville teachers approve strike vote; want talks to continue

District argues current offer, based on Fact Finding, is fair

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Hundreds of members of the Coatesville Area Teachers Association attended Tuesday night’s Coatesville area School District Board of Education meeting to protest being without a contract for more than a year.

CALN — The war of words over the expired Coatesville Area School District’s teachers contract ratcheted up a level Tuesday night when the teachers showed up en masse at the the district Board of Education meeting and announced their union had taken and approved a strike authorization vote.

The teachers are calling for renewed talks while the district has been holding firm with an offer based on the April Fact Finders report — a deal the teachers voted overwhelmingly to reject at the time due to concerns over work rules and health care benefits. The previous contract expired on Aug. 28, 2016.

More than 200 members of the Coatesville Area Teachers Association — the teachers’ union — appeared at the meeting, dressed in blue and chanting that they wanted a new contract, which ultimately to a lecture on their conduct by Board Director Deborah Thompson about their conduct while district officials were responding to comments, which some union members found offensive.

A strike is not imminent, union officials said Tuesday night, but only an option should no further real negotiations take place. CATA would have to give two days notice to the district and could only strike until the district could not complete 180 days of classes. CATA president Audra Ritter said 90% of the rank and file of the union voted for the strike authorization — a sign of the members’ frustration at the lack of progress in the talks.

“All we want is to be treated fairly,” Ritter said, addressing the board, noting that teachers often feel demoralized and even bullied by the current administration.

The board officials, noting the ongoing financial distress of the district, argue that the current offer on the table is reasonable, noting it includes a 9.5% wage increase.

“We’ve made you a fair offer,” Board President Dean Snyder told the union members in the crowd. “And it’s still on the table.”

Snyder offered concerns that once again negative news about the district would permeate the community discussion, rather than improved test scores, honors for the high school’s Advanced Placement students and concrete progress on a plan to build a number of new schools and retire older buildings in poor condition.

The primary sticking points remain health care and work rules, particularly to teacher prep time before the school day. While the district wants more flexibility in having teachers perform other duties, teachers say that the prep work would still need to be done, thus adding to their burden without additional pay.

Although those issues are being specifically cited, teachers also say there are concerns about the management of the district under Superintendent Cathy Taschner — Ritter suggested that teachers feel they can be fired for minor mistakes and that any questioning of administration decisions is seen as insubordinate and that random reassignments have been made. A number of teachers, off the record, suggested that things were less harrowing for teachers under former and now disgraced Superintendent Richard Como, who faces trial later this year over issues with alleged fiscal impropriety. Teachers also alleged that they have not been properly trained to use new curriculum standards and materials.

Taschner denied those claims, saying teachers could not be fired for minor mistakes — but only major ones, such as placing students in danger or drug or alcohol use on campus. 

Taschner further clarified that the transfers had largely come to better match teachers with their certified areas of expertise — previously a number of teachers had been given assignments outside of their areas of certification, a frequent criticism of Como’s time as Superintendent. Taschner also defending the district’s training, noting that it is an ongoing process for professional staff.

In other district news, parents questioned a new recess policy, which they say both changes the time and duration of recess for elementary students in the district. Additionally, recess no longer combines all students from a given grade level. While parents criticized the move, saying the shortened period goes against most current research — and hurts social interaction – the district argues that it has cut down on disciplinary incidents.

Also, for the second straight year, the board voted to approve paying for Coatesville High School students to take the PSAT/SAT tests, with the intention of assisting students without means to take the tests. The hope is that students who are now able to take the tests will have an improved opportunity to attend college and get scholarships.

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