More than 200 teachers and staff at a Washington County school district plan to go on strike Wednesday saying proposed salary changes are unreasonable.
Ringgold School District, 20 miles south of Pittsburgh, serves about 3,000 students from Monongahela and six other Mon Valley towns.
Teachers there have been without a contract since July. In August, the union voted to authorize a strike, if necessary. The district then requested a state-appointed fact finder to mediate bargaining, but the union voted down both of the fact finder’s reports and recommendations, according to union president and teacher Maria Degnan.
Degnan, a social studies teacher in her 12th year with the district, said an agreement had not been reached as of Tuesday afternoon. She said the district did not make any offers and did not respond to the union's proposed salary, health care or language changes.
"The district was not prepared to make us an offer on any of our open issues," she said.
The two parties are not scheduled to meet again until Monday. Degnan said she sent an email to teachers Tuesday evening saying they would be on the picket line at the start of the school day Wednesday.
Ringgold Superintendent Karen Polkabla said in an email that the salary proposal presented by the association Tuesday was about $150,000 more than what was presented by the fact finder.
"The district and association decided there is a need to have an agreement on the same salary numbers and are committed to providing this information," she said.
According to the district's website, classes Wednesday have been canceled until further notice. Polkabla said the district asked the association to put off the strike until the next negotiation, but the union said that was not possible. She said she is hopeful the impasse can be resolved quickly.
Degnan said the district proposed freezing salaries for a year, which would have a ripple effect on pay for the duration of the five-year contract. She said the salary issue illustrates a lack of respect for teachers.
“During my career, I’ve seen some really good teachers leave and go elsewhere simply because of their low paycheck. Because they can’t afford to live on their Ringgold salary,” Degnan said.
She said the district has claimed funding issues.
“We don’t appear to have funding issues in other areas, just when it comes to funding a teacher’s contract.”
Degnan said the union does not want to go on strike and called it a temporary inconvenience for students.
“If the result is we get a good contract for the next five years that allows us to retain quality educators, the kids will actually benefit,” she said.