HERMITAGE Teachers continue working

Negotiators have scheduled two bargaining sessions this month.
SHARON, Pa. -- One public school district in the Mercer and Lawrence county area doesn't have a teacher contract for the new school year that began July 1.
That's Hermitage, where in the last settlement it took 15 months, a journey through the state fact-finding process and the threat of a strike to reach a contract.
Talks started at the beginning of 1996 and ended in March 1997 with approval of a five-year contract that gave teachers an average annual pay increase of $1,785, retroactive to July 1, 1996.
The average teacher salary in the district was $41,900 when that contract took effect and has risen to $47,393 since then.
Similarities: Like the 1996 negotiations, both sides have agreed to extend the terms of their old contract beyond its June 30 expiration date. It will remain in effect as negotiations continue.
Bargaining teams for the school board and the 167-member Hermitage Education Association have been meeting since the first of the year, said Superintendent Karen Ionta, noting that two more sessions are scheduled for this month.
"It's going slowly," said Howard Ryan, the Pennsylvania State Education Association Uniserv representative assisting the teachers in those talks.
Neither side is releasing details of negotiations.
Ryan said the Laurel, Ellwood City Area, Wilmington Area and Union Area school districts settled teacher contracts earlier this year. Union and Laurel got five-year pacts, and Ellwood City and Wilmington have four-year contracts.
All the other districts are in multiyear contracts with their teachers and aren't negotiating this year, Ryan said.
The PSEA represents teachers in 19 of those districts. Teachers in the New Castle Area School District are represented by a different union -- the American Federation of Teachers -- but also is in a multiyear contract.
Ryan said Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV, which provides state-funded educational services to public schools in Mercer, Lawrence and Butler counties, is negotiating a new contract with its 26 Head Start teachers assigned to districts across the three-county area.

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