August 27, 2015
By Rudy Miller
Nazareth Area teachers returned to work Thursday, days before their contract is due to expire and with no deal in sight.
They wore orange t-shirts with their union letters on them as a sign of solidarity in their mission to work together to put children first, according to Nazareth Area Education Association President Adele Mitch.
They’re ready to start the school year, although the future is uncertain.
Asked whether a strike authorization vote is coming, Mitch said, “whatever tools are available to us, we can certainly use in the future.”
A fact finder will review proposals from both sides. Negotiations remain at a standstill until the fact finder’s report is finished.
Superintendent Dennis Riker released a letter to the community on Aug. 12 that says the teachers and district remain “significantly apart on several major issues.” He said both sides have met 14 times since October 2014.
Mitch said Thursday teachers want talks to resume.
“We want nothing that is unreasonable, nothing that is going to cause bankruptcy or financial hardship to the district,” she said Thursday. “But we find it very difficult to negotiate with them. They are not willing to discuss anything across the table.”
She said the teachers want to seek compromises for salaries, health care costs and tuition reimbursement.
“Those are things they’re not interested in really discussing,” she said.
In an emailed statement Thursday, Riker said: “The administration has been involved in the negotiation process since October 21, 2014. Having a third party intervention such as a fact finder is, and can be, a part of the negotiation process.”
Each of the teachers returned to work wearing an orange NAEA t-shirt for the Nazareth Area Education Association, the teachers union.
Mitch said the teachers had blue NAEA shirts made a few years ago.
“It’s really a sign of solidarity,” she said. “Our teachers are always united. We may be diverse in who we are but we are united in our goal to help students and educate students in this district. We want to do everything we can for that common goal.”
The previous three-year contract gave teachers average raises of 3.75 percent per year.
A review of area teacher salary data by lehighvalleylive.com showed Nazareth Area teachers have relatively high starting salaries for the area, relatively low median salaries and relatively high top salaries.
Most of the district teachers fell in the $50,000- to $70,000-a-year salary ranges for 2013-14, according to a review of salary information from across the area obtained through right-to-know requests.