It's contract negotiation time for public school unions and school
boards and Pennsylvania, the national leader in teacher strikes, steels
itself for what could be ahead in the bargaining period.
Not only does Pennsylvania lead the nation in teacher strikes, but
teacher strikes happen more often in Pennsylvania than in all other
states combined every year since 2004. In 37 states, teachers are not
even permitted to strike. The legislative effort against strikes tends
to be a Republican issue. The state is anticipation of next month, when
Republicans will control the governorship and both chambers of
Legislature and progress on a strike ban might be made.
Governor-elect, Tom Corbett, said during his campaign that he was not
opposed to a strike ban, and that he thinks the state should come up
with new solutions for avoiding strikes, including expanding the use of
Despite the high statistics on the state and strikes, the frequency of
strikes is actually going down in Pennsylvania. There were eight strikes
in Pennsylvania last year, according to the state School Boards
Association. Between 1970 and 1992, Pennsylvania saw 850 strikes. In
1992, laws were passed to govern public school collective bargaining.
This law recently came up at Bethel Park school in Pittsburgh. Classes
at Bethel Park were recently resumed after a strike that began on
October 25. Bethel Park teachers are working without a contract, but the
1992 law requires them to continue working despite this. The Bethel Park
strike was attended by 400 teachers and other employees.
Bethel park was one of only three strikes in Pennsylvania so far this academic
year. Others were in Allegheny Valley and Moon Area school districts. School
boards suffer from the need to control expenses and prevent property tax
increases. While Gov. Ed Rendell increased basic education subsidies every year,
policy-makers have suggested that next year's state budget might not be able to
accommodate ever greater levels of state funding.
So the state is bracing.
?If things would go in the trend of seeing more strikes when people are out of
work, people are facing higher medical insurance premiums, I think there would
be a growing willingness by the Legislature to consider such legislation,? said
Rep. Doug Reichley, R-Lehigh.
But maybe legislation won't be necessary. Tom Templeton, an assistant executive
director of the school boards? association, said that school directors typically
want to treat their employees fairly, and push for the overarching goal of
student achievement. He said that recently, more districts are continuing to
bargain after their contracts expire.
Strikes inconvenience parents and students but they are not academically
harmful, said Wythe Keever, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education
Association, the state?s largest teachers? union. Keever said that about 200
contracts for districts, intermediate units and vocational schools are up for
renewal each year, and only a small fraction of these negotiations result in
?We would take any effort to reopen the bargaining law very seriously,? Keever
said. ?However, we think Gov.-elect Corbett and the new General Assembly have
more pressing issues to deal with at this time.?