'It's time': Dallastown teachers take contract dispute to the people

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Dallastown Area School District educators are looking at starting the new school year without a contract in place — again.

Ellen Connelly, president of the Dallastown Area Education Association, said union members will meet Aug. 16 to discuss next steps after negotiations Wednesday with district officials "did not result in any movement."

The move came amid increasingly contentious and public negotiations that included a rally at the high school. When asked about the possibility of a strike, Connelly said it was well within the teachers' rights to walk out of their classrooms.

School board President Anthony Pantano said the biggest sticking points are salary, health care and retiree health care benefits. About 42% of the district’s teachers are at the top of the salary scale and earning more than $100,000, he added.

Connelly said to make $100,000, a staff member needs to work in the district for 14 years and have a master's degree and 60 extra graduate credits.

"When you work six days a week from August to June, you have pretty much worked a 12-month year," she said, adding that because the district has cut positions, she herself has covered two positions since 2010. 

She spends her summers on lesson plans, working with parents, attending graduation parties and writing recommendations for students going to college. 

Connelly is tired of having to defend her salary, she said. 

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The two groups are expected to meet again later this month. However, the educators' first in-service days start Aug. 16, and classes begin Aug. 25.

The district has a history of contentious contract renewals. Educators went on strike over salaries in the early 1990s. They threatened, but did not follow through, on a strike in December 2020, during the last contract negotiation.

The last strike threat was averted when both sides agreed to a temporary contract, which itself expired this June, following the start of the latest round of negotiations in January.

"Now here we are again,” Connelly said.

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Pantano said the association requested an arbitrator this spring, and one was assigned by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. The arbitrator proposed a settlement that the board unanimously approved but the association did not. He said that four-year contract would have included a 1.2% salary increase the first year and up to 24 weeks of uncompensated parental leave.

Connelly noted that the association agreed to many of the board's terms but declined to go into detail on what they were because the negotiations are ongoing.

Teachers took a wage freeze during the previous contract negotiation, she added, and settled on a lower salary increase last year. They are not looking to do that again, she said.

Roughly 150 educators rallied in front of the school Wednesday, joined by some parents and other supporters.

Connelly said the goal was to keep education in the public conversation, including issues surrounding class size and COVID response.

Teachers and community members rally outside Dallastown Area High School in York Township, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. The rally was held just before the Dallastown Area School District School Board would return to contract negotiations with the Dallastown Area Education Association. Dawn J. Sagert photo

High school social studies teacher Adam Trone, who attended the rally, said it's important for educators to stand together.

“I think the message that we need to take is: It's time," he said.

Angela Small, a sixth-grade math teacher, said she's watched relations between the board and its teacher association devolve over the last 23 years. Depending on the outcome of negotiations, she said, this could be the third wage freeze within the past decade or so.

Connelly said the association is encouraging educators to show up and pay attention at any of the school board meetings. The next board meeting is 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18 in the Dallastown Area High School Large Group Instruction Room. 

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If the district and association can't come to an agreement, Connelly said the association will have to meet again to decide how to proceed.

“It’s the reality," she said. "We need to be prepared.”

With the pandemic upending the learning process, teachers need to be focused on the children, Connelly said. They shouldn't have to worry about their labor contract, too.

“It will be another difficult year to close the gaps for students,” she said.

In addition to Dallastown, York Suburban Education Association is also in the middle of negotiations for educators. Dover Area, York City and Central York school districts are negotiating contracts for support staff. 

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.