'We really don't want to be seen as the enemy': Inside Dallastown's labor talks

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Dallastown Area School District and its educators reached a tentative agreement on a labor contract late Thursday night, averting a possible teacher strike at the start of the school year.

Ellen Connelly, president of the Dallastown Area Education Association, and Anthony Pantano, school board president, both said in statements Friday they were pleased about the tentative agreement. 

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The association members and the school board still need to review the contract and approve it — a process that the association said could happen early next month. Contract details will be released when the agreement is finalized. 

During the school board meeting, Dallastown staff packed the room wearing dark blue shirts that read “Better Together stronger” with two hands clasping on their backs. Staff sat in the pathways in the seating area, brought in chairs and lined the auditorium walls, facing the school board members.  

During the public comment section, one speaker commented that she knew they were breaking the maximum occupancy rule and the board should have been more prepared because more people were outside the room listening to the meeting. She came in to speak on their behalf. 

Pantano kicked the meeting off with a statement on behalf of the board thanking the teachers and community in attendance. 

He said the board always had a goal to reach a fair contract. 

“Despite assertions on social media from those who don’t know us, there’s not a person up here that doesn’t value the teachers,” he said. “We’re all hoping for and we’re all working toward a contract settlement.”

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Patano reminded listeners the district went through a neutral third party called Fact Finder in May but still had no agreement. He said another offer was made Wednesday, and the association offered a counter Thursday morning. The next negotiating session was supposed to be Aug. 30 but was moved to after the Thursday board meeting. 

People listening outside the already packed in auditorium as the Dallastown Board of School Directors contemplates teacher pay in Dallastown on August 18, 2022.

The board was also aware of the association’s strike authorization and is aware of the stress that puts on everyone involved, he said. 

“Frankly, we really don't want to be seen as the enemy,” he said.

Before he opened the meeting up for public comment, he reminded the audience the longer the meeting dragged on, the later they could get to negotiations. 

Connelly said Fact Finder was not a random neutral party because the district was involved in the process. 

“We sincerely wish we could have accepted the report in its entirety,” she said.

Board members Sarah Hostler, on left, and Anthony Pantano, on right, reacting to something a said during public comment in packed auditorium as the Dallastown Board of School Directors contemplates teacher pay in Dallastown on August 18, 2022.

Connelly said the board oversimplified some statements about teachers' pay, such as a figure that 42.3% of the teachers are at the top of the salary scale, earning more than $100,000. 

Connelly said the pay doesn’t reflect the work they do, the amount they paid out of pocket for masters’ degrees and the amount of overtime they log. 

“I don’t like the disrespect and the flippant comments,” she said. 

Another speaker, Traci Rodkey, said: “You can’t put the students first if you put these teachers last.”

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Negotiations over the contract began in January.

In May, the association requested a neutral third party to help the two sides agree. The teachers rallied outside the high school on Aug. 10, before their negotiations team went into another meeting with the district's attorney.

When that meeting failed to result in an agreement, the educators voted Tuesday to authorize a strike. That strike could be called by the negotiations team at any point, as long as they gave the district a 48-hour notice.

The association also threatened a strike during negotiations in December 2020. That threat was averted because both sides agreed on a temporary contract that expired June 30. 

The first day of school for the district is Thursday.

In addition to Dallastown, York Suburban is also in the middle of negotiations with its 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.

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