ADAMS TWP — The Mars Area Education Association voted last week to authorize its negotiation team to call a strike, if needed.
Mars Area faculty members have now been working more than 130 days without a new contract, since its previous contract expired this summer.
A news release from the Pennsylvania State Education Association about the vote was sent out Nov. 10 following a district school board meeting. MAEA must provide 48 hours' notice to the district before stopping work, according to the release.
“We'd like to bring it back to the table,” said Joe Graff, a teacher and president of MAEA, Nov. 11 in a call to the Eagle. “We're just looking to negotiate.”
The strike authorization vote was passed unanimously after some teachers in recent weeks expressed their disappointment in the school board's efforts to broker a new contract.
Peter Black, a district teacher since 1997, tried twice to speak to the board during public comment Nov. 10.
John Kennedy, board president, said because Black lives outside the district, he didn't qualify for speaking in public comment as a teacher.
“You have your association for that,” Kennedy said. “There is a procedure we have to follow.”
MAEA ceded the floor to Black when it came time for the association's board report.
Black praised board members Christine Valenta, Megan Lenz and Anthony DePretis for their “encouraging words” over the past few weeks.
“(It's) the feelings of teachers that we are not being respected by this district,” Black said.
Black recognized board members who have been backing faculty, but asked the board as a whole to make a better effort toward the negotiation process.
District parent Jill Ceasar said Tuesday night she had concerns about a recent negotiation session being canceled by the district.
Last week, the school board said a session scheduled Nov. 2 was canceled due to the district's solicitor going out of town.
“I would truly hope that our district is negotiating with the teachers and association in good faith,” Ceasar said.
Noting that staff is working “tireless hours” during the pandemic to educate students both in person and virtually, Ceasar said she's concerned the district isn't showing appropriate appreciation.
Ceasar also referenced a public finance meeting held before last week's board meeting.
In that meeting, district leaders discussed a $1.3 million shortage Mars Area expects to face due to the number of students who have enrolled in cyber charter school this year. “Every time one of the association contracts are up, we tend to have these finance meetings where there seems to be a shortfall in money,” Ceasar said.
Ceasar said while she understands COVID-19 is affecting districts financially, she hopes the finance meetings aren't being used as a negotiation tactic.
“(For) the district saying, 'Sorry, yet again. We can't give you more money,'” Ceasar said.
MAEA and the district have participated in one negotiation session so far this school year — in October, according to Graff.
One of the things MAEA wants to do is establish regular negotiation sessions.
“The more negotiation dates, the better,” Graff said. “It's been stressful.”
Kennedy said a negotiation session is scheduled Monday. Valenta told Ceasar that the recent cancellation wasn't planned or underhanded.
“I ask the public to please be patient,” Valenta said. “And know that we're going to continue the negotiations hopefully as planned on the 23rd.”
According to the state education association announcement, MAEA has contacted the district monthly about negotiation meetings.
The district has canceled at least two meetings and hasn't proposed a new contract since the beginning of the calendar year.
There are no further details available about a possible strike at this time.