January 23, 2007

What Does Your Teacher Earn?

By Scott Waldman, Erie Times-News, Pa.

Jan. 23--The 435 miles of Pennsylvania that stand between Simon Campbell's Yardley home and the Millcreek Township School District have not diminished his concern about the possibility of a teachers strike.

Campbell, a public-school parent and financial-markets trader, entered into Millcreek's teacher-strike discussion last week when he posted on his Web site, www.stopteacherstrikes.org, the salary of every teacher in the district as well as the union members who represent them.

He said he was motivated to create the Web site -- which he said has received more than 1 million hits since he started it a year ago -- after his children's teachers in the Pennsbury School District near Philadelphia went on strike for 21 days in November 2005.

Campbell said Monday that he posted the Millcreek salaries to create accountability for teachers.

"Public employees should be serving the public interest," he said. "A public employee intending to strike is not serving a public interest."

Campbell's site enlivens the debate as the clock counts down to Feb. 1, the day more than 500 members of the Millcreek Education Association will strike if a contract is not in place.

But the district's negotiating team and its teachers union "remain far apart" in discussions over salary and health benefits after more than 20 bargaining sessions, according to the district Web site.

The union is asking for an annual raise of 4 percent over a five-year contract, according to the MEA Web site.

The average Millcreek teacher salary is $50,415.

The district's most recent salary hike proposal is 3.5 percent.

The school district recently backed off its initial $25 biweekly contribution for health benefits. The district's current proposal for health benefits is a biweekly $10 for single employees, $20 with spouses and $30 for a family.

The union is willing to contribute more than the Erie County teacher average of $9 per month, though officials have not released an exact amount.

Teachers have been working without a contract since August.

On Monday night, more than 150 teachers gathered at the Millcreek Education Center during a regular School Board meeting to rally support for their negotiating team.

Millcreek resident Pat Consiglio told those gathered at the meeting that the district's tax base might not be able to support more wage increases because of the loss of so many manufacturing jobs in the region over the past few years. He cautioned both sides that the contract talks should not affect the education of the district's children.

"Business is business, and that's the way you need to look at it," he said.

School Board President Terry Scutella asked the crowd of teachers, many of whom were wearing white shirts emblazoned with a blue MEA logo, to tell their leadership a contract could be negotiated without a work stoppage. He said the district would meet every night if necessary to avoid a strike.

"In about nine days, we're heading somewhere we don't want to go," Scutella said.

After Scutella spoke, a round of applause rippled through the overflow crowd, which was grouped around televisions in the hall.

MEA President Jeff Merz said Campbell's Web site did not bother him because it posted public information. He said, however, that it only reflected a particular agenda.

He said the union is willing to meet every night until the deadline to avoid a strike. He said the district's negotiating team already had told him of scheduling conflicts for Wednesday.

He said the union membership would stand by its Feb. 1 deadline because the talks already had dragged on.

"We have to have a contract in order not to go out," Merz said. "Progress is not enough for us."

WHAT'S NEXT: The Millcreek Township School District and the Millcreek Education Association will hold negotiations at the Millcreek Education Center at 6 p.m. today.

ON THE WEB: Simon Campbell's Web site is: www.stopteacherstrikes.org.

The Millcreek Township School District's update on the contract negotiations can be found at: www.mtsd.org.

The Millcreek Education Association's bargaining session update is at www.mea.psealocals.org.


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