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Dallastown teachers union threatens to strike

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Teacher Lisa Dehoff, left, asks students questions about what they are learning before giving them a rock candy pop as she reads, "The Bunyans" to students during ESL (English as a Second Language) summer camp at Dallastown Middle School in Dallastown, Thursday, June 23, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The union representing more than 400 staff members within the Dallastown Area School District has threatened to strike in March if contract negotiations remain stalled. 

Nearly 100% of Dallastown Area Education Association's members voted to authorize a strike Thursday evening, Union President Ellen Connelly said. The authorization was in response to the district's "failure to put forth a credible proposal" for new staff contracts that expired June 30, according to a statement issued late Thursday by the union. 

The strike authorization means the union could call a strike at any time, but union officials said in a Thursday statement they do not intend to strike until March 16. This gives district and union officials about three months to come to an agreement on the new contracts. Representatives from both groups said they hope to reach an agreement in that time. 

"The public should know that this has not been an easy process," Connelly said. 

Connelly said Friday the union is under an agreement with the district not to disclose the nature of the discussions surrounding the negotiations. District officials also refused to comment on the contract terms. 

But, in a statement released Thursday night, district officials highlighted rising health care and pension costs as being among areas of concern. The district is also facing a deficit due to a $2.5 million funding oversight this summer. 

But union head Connelly said an unwillingness to communicate among district officials has stalled the talks, which have been ongoing since January. The previous contract expired June 30.

All communication is controlled by District Solicitor Jeff Sultanik, Connelly said. He has issued ultimatums to teachers, she said, and has refused to compromise.

"None of our proposals or ideas are good enough," Connelly said. 

Sultanik could not be reached Friday for comment via phone or email. 

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Union members took issues, such as spiking cost of health care and pensions, into account when they drafted the union's negotiating position. It's the district that hasn't budged, she maintained. 

District officials considered submitting a fact-finding request to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to get a third-party recommendation on the contract disputes, according to the district's statement. The strike authorization means the fact-finding process cannot proceed. 

“The board is disappointed that the union’s strategic three months strike notice has prevented the parties from obtaining the benefit of utilizing a third party in making recommendations in resolving our differences in an open and transparent process," Dallastown Board President Ronald Blevins said in the statement. "We are hopeful that the union will affirmatively withdraw the strike notice."

Connelly said the negotiations can progress if district officials give teachers a say in the conversation.

"With this much confusion … we need to be at the table," Connelly said. 

The Dallastown Area School District employs 431 staff, according to Superintendent Joshua Doll. Nearly all of them are part of the union, Connelly said. To the best of her knowledge, Connelly said a strike would mean a "complete work stoppage" for all union members.