HERMITAGE, PA. Teachers end strike; arbitration is next

State law gives the two sides 50 days to go through nonbinding arbitration in an effort to settle their dispute.
HERMITAGE, Pa. -- The 2,300 pupils in the Hermitage School District were back in the classroom today as teachers ended their seven-day strike.
Things were running smoothly this morning, "just like the next day of school," said Superintendent Karen Ionta.
The district's 165 teachers walked off the job March 21 but were ordered back to work today by the Pennsylvania Department of Education so that Hermitage can complete 180 days of classroom instruction by June 15.
Money is the stumbling block to settling a new contract, which would be retroactive to July 1. The school board is offering average raises of $1,600 a year for three years while the teachers are seeking average annual raises of $2,700.
To choose arbitrators: Under state Act 88, the teacher negotiations law, the two sides now have 10 days to pick a panel of three arbitrators that will listen to their arguments and come up with a nonbinding recommendation for settlement.
Ionta said there may also be another effort to get the sides to meet once more with a state mediator before arbitration, and she was working on that today.
The board and teacher negotiating teams did meet with a mediator Tuesday but the session lasted only an hour with neither side willing to move from its last proposal.
Act 88 gives the two sides a total of 50 calendar days to complete the arbitration process, and if either side rejects the arbitrators' recommendation, the teachers could strike again around May 20.
However, the length of that work stoppage would also be limited by Act 88 which says the district must then be allowed to complete 180 days of classroom instruction by June 30 which would mean the second strike could last only about 10 days.
If the two sides don't reach agreement by the start of the new school year in the fall, the teachers could strike again.

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