Supporters of both sides in Wyoming Area understand the complexities of the issue but want students back in school

Last updated: September 07. 2013 12:39AM - 1352 Views
BILL O’BOYLE boboyle@timesleader.com

Tom Saunders, a parent and taxpayer in the Wyoming Area School District, walks in support of the teachers Friday morning in West Pittston.
Tom Saunders, a parent and taxpayer in the Wyoming Area School District, walks in support of the teachers Friday morning in West Pittston.
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Striking facts

• Wyoming Area ranked 61st out of 619 high schools in the state by U.S. News and World report.

• More than 21,000 schools were evaluated across the nation, with the top 500 schools in the nation receiving gold medal status; 501-1,790, silver medal; and 2,500, a bronze medal. Wyoming Area received a silver medal ranking for academic achievement.

• The teachers are allowed to strike until Oct. 4 and must return to classes Oct. 5 to meet the state-mandated 180-school day requirement.

• Non-binding arbitration would commence Oct. 5, and if no agreement is reached, teachers could strike again. But the 180-day requirement must be met by June 30.

• No negotiation meetings are scheduled between teachers and school board.

• The Wyoming Area School District encompasses Wyoming, West Wyoming, Exeter, West Pittston, Falls Township and Harding.

Teacher average salaries

• According to the state Department of Education, for the 2012-13 school year Wyoming Area ranked 405th of 500 districts in average salary for professional personnel.

• In Luzerne County, they had the lowest average salary, due largely because they have worked under an expired contract for three years, with no raises:

• Wyoming Valley West, $66,662

• Wilkes-Barre Area, $65,039

• Hanover Area, $64,677

• Pittston Area, $63,946

• Lake-Lehman, $63,558

• Hazleton Area, $60,997

• Dallas, $60,968

• Crestwood, $60,335

• Greater Nanticoke Area, $58,198

• Northwest Area, $56,344

• Wyoming Area, $54,618

WEST PITTSTON — Opinions vary widely in the five-day-old Wyoming Area School District teachers’ strike — everybody wants it resolved, but how and when is anybody’s guess.

Meanwhile, as teachers walked the picket line Friday at the Montgomery Avenue Elementary School, parents and business people wondered how long it will take to get the contract issues resolved and students back in school.

The Wyoming Area Education Association went on strike Tuesday, and its members have been working without a contract since August of 2010, when the last five-year pact expired.

No negotiations are scheduled, and if a contract is not reached, the teachers will be ordered back to school on Oct. 5. If all of that class time is time missed because of the strike, the district will not be able to have extended holiday breaks at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Walking the line

As the teachers walked around Montgomery Avenue Elementary School, they were joined by Tom Saunders, a West Pittston resident and father of children attending district schools. Saunders carried a sign that read: “This parent and taxpayer supports Wyoming Area teachers. Give them a contract.”

Saunders has first-hand knowledge that the district teachers are dedicated and produce great results, he said. He has received phone calls and emails regarding his children from teachers working after school hours — even one email that was time-stamped at 1:30 a.m., he said.

“Whenever my wife and I have had an issue with our children’s education, the teachers have always been there for us, no matter what time,” he said. “We are extremely pleased with the quality of education our kids are receiving.”

Saunders said he has three children in elementary school and one in high school. He called a teacher on a Thursday evening and had a two-hour conversation about one of his children on how to resolve a particular issue, he said.

“Now, that teacher, to me, is worth $100,000,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, these teachers put the time in and then some. They are always available and they care. They are 100 percent committed to their students.”

Another person joining the picket line this week was attorney Michael Cefalo, who said his father was an international union representative for more than 40 years. “He always taught me that unless you know where you come from, you’ll never understand who you really are,” Cefalo said.

Based on that philosophy, said Cefalo, he is supporting the teachers, and he urged both sides to get together to get a resolution.

“I’m sure this is frustrating for everybody,” he said. “Taxpayers fear tax hikes, the board feels it can’t afford to pay more and the teachers feel they are underpaid.”

Cefalo, who graduated from West Pittston High School — now Montgomery Avenue Elementary — said the Wyoming Area district is a close-knit community. “I sometimes wonder how this will affect the people,” he said.

Day in the park

Connie Dominick, wife of school board member Gil Dominick, was at the Butler Street Park with her two grandchildren: Miranda and Logan Dominick, twins who are in the fourth grade. She talked about the strike and its effects.

“We’d all like to see them in school,” she said. “But you really can’t get blood from a stone. How much more can people give?”

The school board is trying to get the situation resolved; her husband is constantly attending meetings to try to come up with a resolution, she said.

“What do the school members get paid?” she asked, noting that the elected positions are unpaid. “Nobody wants to raise taxes. If taxes keep going up, nobody will be able to afford anything.”

Dominick didn’t agree with teachers picketing the business of school board President John Bolin, owner of Flowers by Lucille. “I just don’t get that,” she said.

Bolin was not at his business Friday morning and he did not return a message left with an employee of the flower shop.

Gil Dominick has been a school board member sporadically for more than 20 years. Both sides are at fault and should share the blame for the situation.

“We’ll meet any time they want,” Dominick said.

Also at Butler Park was Lisa Ciampi and her three children: second-grader Louis, Nicholas, a kindergarten student and 2-year-old Mia.

“We just want what’s best for everybody,” said Ciampi, a former teacher. “We know the teachers, school board and parents don’t want a strike. We just want the best possible resolution.”

Ciampi said the district has a great reputation for quality education and she realizes the teachers are among the lowest paid in the county. “We see both sides, but why are they the lowest paid?” she asked. “Teachers are so important. Look at what happened in Newtown (Conn.). I’m sure our teachers would do everything they could do to protect my kids.”

Ted Richard and Patty Phares operate West Side Chili Dog and Deli on Luzerne Avenue. They have been offering hoagies at discounted prices for the teachers walking the picket line.

“We want to support them, our community and our schools,” Phares said. “We don’t want them to go elsewhere. We want to keep these excellent teachers at Wyoming Area.”

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