Spring-Ford teachers' union responds on progress of contract talks

Spring-Ford Area School District and the Spring-Ford Education Association are in the midst of negotiating a new contract for their teachers.

LIMERICK — The Spring-Ford Education Association disputed claims made in a school board statement read at a recent board meeting.

“We’d like to clarify some of Mr. Ciresi’s points regarding ongoing contract negotiations,” Maria Kardick, president of the Spring-Ford Education Association (SFEA), said June 5.

Spring-Ford Area School Board President Joe Ciresi read the board’s statement regarding teacher contract negotiations May 27.

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The board said it “remained concerned that the Association has had a significant amount of turnover in its leadership.”

Specifically, the board expressed misgivings at Brandon Ruppel taking over as lead negotiator for the teachers’ union, along with a shake-up in PSEA UniServ representative.

“The board believes that, unfortunately, the change in players in the Association leadership ... has contributed to the delays and difficulties at the bargaining table,” according to the statement.

“There has not been a ‘significant amount of turnover in (the) leadership’ within the Spring-Ford Education Association or its negotiating team, despite the board’s assertion that turnover is the culprit for an unsettled contract,” Kardick said.

Kardick said she has been the union’s president since 2012 and other members of the leadership have served in their roles even longer.

Additionally, Kardick said Ruppel is not new to the negotiating table.

“Chief negotiator Brandon Ruppel has been on the negotiations committee since the fall of 2012 and has been negotiating on the association’s behalf since (the) fall of 2013,” Kardick said. “Even with the UniServ changes, that’s PSEA’s problem. The PSEA representative has never been our problem.”

Instead of union leadership issues, Kardick feels hang-ups can be traced to the absence of board members at the negotiations.

The teachers’ union has a system in place in which it sends up to five individuals to the negotiating table while a larger group waits in another room in the building to serve in an advisory fashion.

The advisory team waits in another room grading papers and reading until the negotiating team comes back to confer with them.

The union’s release said the school board members involved in the negotiations, Tom DiBello, Dawn Heine and Bernard Pettit, have not attended negotiation meetings since spring 2013.

Although DiBello told the Mercury that they have not been present at meetings lately, it doesn’t go back as far as that spring.

At the negotiating table for the district is Spring-Ford Director of Human Resources Beth Leiss and Jeffrey Sultanik, a labor relations attorney contracted by the district.

Because board members aren’t present, Kardick said it’s hard for the union to make any counter suggestions or proposals.

“One of the things we feel is slowing things down is the board is not readily available to hear the ideas as they’re happening,” she said.

“(Sultanik) keeps the personnel committee (DiBello, Pettit and Heine) abreast of what’s going on at all times and, when necessary, we update the board with where things are going,” DiBello said.

DiBello said the “ball is in the union’s court” to set a regular meeting schedule.

Spring-Ford Area Education Association’s press release agreed with the district release in that the sticking points in current negotiations are elementary school-level preparation time for teachers and health care.

The teachers’ contract has been expired since the end of the last school year.

A tentative agreement was reached between the sides last spring, according to the union release, which was voted down by the Spring-Ford Education Association membership twice.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.