Teachers union president says timing of the cuts prompted the action

Last updated: August 20. 2013 11:11PM - 3791 Views
By - mguydish@timesleader.com

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KINGSTON — Wyoming Valley West School District teacher union President Linda Houck said Tuesday she is in the process of filing labor grievances over changes in elementary music education — which she has been teaching — and elimination of a middle school librarian position.

Houck said that, while she felt the cuts would hurt students, the grievances were based on timing, and not on the cuts themselves. Any changes had to be announced by the end of April under both state law and the union contract, she said, but that deadline was not met.

“They called me yesterday (Monday) and told me they have decided to eliminate my full-time elementary position,” Houck said.

Houck said the middle school librarian decision was almost as abrupt, contending the School Board did mention plans to eliminate the post at the end of June, but then agreed to reconsider after the union raised several issues. Yet the librarian, Joann Prushinski, didn’t learn the results of that reconsideration until last week, Houck said.

The board voted in December on the elementary school music program. Critics contended the vote was to eliminate elementary music classes, but the board, and Superintendent Charles Suppon, repeatedly insisted the vote was only to study potential changes.

But Houck said the changes she was told about were dramatic. She has been teaching about 35 hours of music lessons in five elementary schools, with a high school teacher chipping in another four or five hours. Under the new proposal, Houck said, she would be switched to full-time music teacher at the middle school — a job made available by the retirement of her husband, also a music teacher — and three other teachers would cover elementary school lessons.

Houck said her understanding is that lessons would be reduced to about 12 hours a week total among the five schools. “There is no way they can cover the things I covered.”

The librarian issue began with the retirement of an elementary school librarian earlier this year. Houck said the district has four: two at the recently enlarged State Street Elementary, one full-time at Dana Street Elementary, and a fourth splitting time among the other three schools.

The board posted to refill the position, but apparently changed its mind, announcing at the end of June that Prushinski would take on the duties. Houck said she pointed out the need of a librarian at the large middle school and highlighted studies that show students in schools with certified librarians score better in standardized tests, and the board agreed to reconsider.

Both changes “are going to be grieved,” Houck said. “The idea is that we don’t fly by the seat of our pants, and that parents know what to expect.”

Board President Gordon Dussinger said the changes were strictly a response to a tight budget, and that the delay in making final decisions stemmed from the rapidly shifting landscape.

“Sometimes you expect things to happen and they don’t, and school is about to open and other factors come in,” Dussinger said, conceding Houck may have grounds for filing a grievance. “Sometimes you say ‘We just have to let them grieve it and go to an arbitrator,’ someone who’s neutral, to hear both sides.”

Dussinger stressed no teachers were furloughed and no programs cut, adding that an aide likely will be appointed to help at the middle school library. “We’re trying to do the best we can in a situation without really hurting any programs,” he said. “We’re trying to keep everything going. I think the teachers deserve a lot of credit. They step in and help plug holes.”

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