Harrisburg School District teachers to hold strike on Friday

HARRISBURG — Teachers within the Harrisburg School District will be holding a one-day strike on Friday, according to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and the Harrisburg Education Association (HEA).

The associations said in a news release that members voted Tuesday to strike, voicing outrage and concern over the school district’s failure to address the needs of its students.

In the news release, the associations listed what they believe to be issues that reveal the school district’s inability to act in the best interest of teachers, staff, students and the community, including: end-around contract bargaining, refusing to resolve a grievance over the failure to pay veteran teachers for their experience, hiring teachers on the wrong salary step and continuing to pay benefits to employees after they left, to name a few.

The Harrisburg School District responded with the following press release:

The Harrisburg School District was according to Chief Negotiator, Jeffrey T. Sultanik of Fox Rothschild LLP, shocked to receive a 48 hours strike notice at 9:33 PM on May 28, 2019.

While rumors of a potential work stoppage started to circulate within the school district a few hours earlier, the District was completely blindsided by the perfunctory notice which states that the Harrisburg Education Association (HEA) will commence a work stoppage at 7:30 AM on May 31, 2019 if a tentative agreement is not reached prior to that date and time. No reason for the action was stated just three workdays prior the currently scheduled 2018-2019 school year.

According to Mr. Sultanik, “The District cannot fathom how the HEA would withhold services without a salary or benefits proposal on the bargaining table. Since the commencement of bargaining in January 2018, the association has steadfastly refused to make either a comprehensive salary or benefits proposal citing a lack of clarity on the District’s current salary and benefit costs, and the need to have a definitive explanation on the maximum salary and benefit amounts established under Pennsylvania Department of Education’s 2016 Amended Recovery Plan. The District has already offered the Association the maximum amount of dollars permitted under that plan. What is so incomprehensible to the District is that the parties just scheduled a meeting/conference call for 3 PM on Monday, June 3, 2019 with representatives of Public Financial Management to address both the HEA’s and the District’s questions about the amended recovery plan’s salary and benefits calculations and mandates. The meeting with PFM was just scheduled and confirmed as of 3:28 PM on the same date that the union gave the District it’s ill conceived strike notice.”

The HEA received a detailed listing of all of the District’s prioritized issues in dispute in negotiations that were also shared with the Chief Recovery Officer who is in the process of updating the amended recovery plan. The District has as of yet to receive a response from the HEA to the prioritized issues.

Further, according to Mr. Sultanik, “I am at a complete loss to explain how the HEA in good conscience can go on strike without having any salary proposal on the table. The HEA speaks of a systemic failure to address the needs of its students, yet they will be depriving students of their education by virtue of the proposed work stoppage. The Association also complains that the District has submitted to the Chief Recovery Officer bargainable issues that may be addressed in the amended recovery plan. The District’s submission was at the request of the Chief Recovery Officer and the HEA submitted a similar request for issues to be considered by the Chief Recovery Officer and recently met with her to address their concerns.”

Superintendent, Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney, commentating upon the Association’s notice stated: “Our mission as a school district is to improve our students educational outcomes. A one day strike protesting all of the challenges being faced by the school district may serve the need of the union leadership to flex its muscles and continue its carefully crafted public relations strategy against the District, but it has the net impact of hurting our student’s education. Why can’t the Association move forward with our meeting next Monday to obtain clarification on the salary and benefits numbers, prepare a fair salary and health benefits proposal, and then gauge the reaction of the District before they decide to hurt our children by initiating a destructive work action?”

A decision whether or not to close schools on Friday will be made by the Superintendent by 9 PM Thursday evening so that parents and guardians will have sufficient time to arrange for childcare for their students. The Superintendent will also notify parents the students about vocational technical school classes and students being assigned to CAIU programs. The District remains hopeful that the Association will heed its request to delay the strike until the scheduled meeting takes place on Monday at 3 PM.

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