The teachers have been working under an extension of their old contract since July 1.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
HERMITAGE, Pa. -- They've been at it for a year, but negotiators for the Hermitage School Board and the district's teachers have yet to come up with a new contract for this school year.
Technically, the old pact expired June 30, but the two sides agreed to extend the terms of that agreement as negotiations continued. The latest bargaining session was Monday.
Hermitage is the only public school district in Mercer and Lawrence counties where teachers don't have a contract for this year.
Laurel, Ellwood City Area, Wilmington Area and Union Area school districts all started negotiations about the same time as Hermitage, and all had new contracts signed by July 1.
Some other districts, whose contracts expire this June, have already begun negotiating for new agreements expected to take effect in July.
But lengthy negotiations are nothing new for Hermitage.
"I guess, for us, it's fairly common," said Paul Estock, a sixth-grade teacher and chief negotiator for the 167-member Hermitage Education Association.
It's history: Negotiations for the last contract took 14 months.
Bargaining teams began meeting in January 1996 on that one but didn't get a contract ratified until March 1997. That pact, retroactive to July 1, 1996, gave teachers an average annual pay increase of $1,785 in each of its five years.
The average teacher's salary in the district was $41,900 when it took effect and rose to about $47,400 last year.
Talks on a new contract began in January 2001, and as negotiations drag on, morale tends to drop a bit, Estock said.
Still, a wholesale change in administration in the district at the end of the last school year, including a new superintendent and a number of building principals and other supervisory positions, has helped with employee morale overall, he said.
No one appears to be discouraged, and both sides are willing to continue talking.
"Everyone's wishing it was over and done with," said Superintendent Karen Ionta, adding that everyone is also remaining patient.
"There's been progress," said Martha Boyd, the Pennsylvania State Education Association representative assisting the teachers in the talks.
"They're still bargaining," she said.