PUNXSUTAWNEY — At Tuesday night's voting meeting of the Punxsutawney Area School Board, the president of the Punxsutawney Area Education Association (PAEA) responded to comments made by several school board members during the board's Jan. 8 meeting, when the new contract was ratified.
The PAEA represents more than 180 teaching professionals in local public schools, said Don Gill, president of the PAEA spoke to the school board Tuesday.
"I came into teaching as a second career, and, like my colleagues, teaching is more than a job or a paycheck. It's a calling," he said.
"Like my colleagues, I take my responsibility to my students, their families and this community very seriously," Gill said, adding that public education is facing many challenges.
"Every one of us who is dedicated to our children in public schools is part of the fight to protect and preserve public education," he said.
Gill said that everyone is in this battle together to preserve public education.
"That is why recent remarks by certain school board members are so disheartening to the teachers of this district," he said. "At a time when we truly all need to be working together, to ensure our public schools remain vibrant and strong, some have chosen to tear us down.
"What I'm referring to are the remarks made regarding the PAEA's tentative agreement with the school board, which were printed in the Jan. 9 issue of The Punxsutawney Spirit and were viewed as inflammatory and degrading to the dedicated educators of this district.
"Perhaps there were some misunderstandings, and if so, I would like to clear up any misinformation regarding the bargaining in the contract agreed to by both sides."
There were a number of issues addressed by Gill.
"Fact number one: Salary and healthcare were some of the first items agreed upon by the board and the association. However, after talks stalled, the association agreed with the board to discuss healthcare contributions," Gill said, adding that the final contribution rate was presented by the board in the tentative agreement.
"No agreement regarding contributions had been made prior to that," he
The next topic Gill addressed was the salary schedules for teachers.
"Fact number two: As part of the bargaining process, salary schedules were made by the association within the parameters of the agreed-upon percentages," Gill said.
"It is unclear to our team why some board members would question the distribution plans because the basis for that salary schedule used in this agreement was created by the board in the last contract."
After that, Gill went on to speak about the issue of random drug testing to clarify the reason the PAEA is against the practice.
"On the issue raised by the board regarding the random drug testing, please let me be clear: The PAEA could not consider this issue, because it would've violated the personal constitutional rights of every member," Gill said. "It should be known that the PAEA did offer a comprehensive drug testing policy, and the board rejected it."
Gill said it was immoral and improper to even suggest a proposal that would've provided lower healthcare payments, or no healthcare payments, in return for giving up a constitutional right.
"What are we really promoting by that?" he asked.
Gill concluded by calling for unity in the process.
"In conclusion, we have huge challenges ahead of us; we are all educational advocates, and together, we must be united in our goal to provide every child in this community with the best possible
education that we can," he said.
"As role models for our children, I believe it's unprofessional and irresponsible to publicly criticize our educational partners. The PAEA bargained in good faith. We recognize that bargaining is about compromise, and in the end, there will be parts of any contract that are not perfect for either side.
"However, having said that, I would ask that in the future, we do the bargaining at the table and not in public," Gill said, "not after the fact, and certainly not with misinformation."
Jack White, board member, said he had some questions for Gill, but Gary Conrad, board president, said that there had already been enough comments made.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the motion to abolish one art teacher position at Punxsutawney Area High School at the end of the 2012-13 school year ended in a 4-4 tie.
Francis Molinaro, board vice president and chairman of the personnel and instruction committee, said the board has two choices, hire someone for 90 days or hire someone full-time at a later date.
Dave Young, board solicitor, said the board either has to vote to abolish the position of the third art teacher, or, if it chooses not to do so, to hire somebody to fill that position.
Molinaro made the motion to abolish the position, as it was printed on the agenda.
The motion was seconded by White.
The vote ended in a 4-4 tie, with Lesa Conner, Conrad, White and Jim Baun voting yes to abolish the position, and Roberta Dinsmore, Molinaro, Bob Pascuzzo and Penny Pifer voting not to abolish the position. Melissa Snyder was absent.
A large group of supporters for the art teacher position filled the board room, and those comments, along with the comments from the board, will appear in Thursday's print edition of The Spirit.
• The board approved a motion to change the tax collector commission
rates, 6-1-1 with Pascuzzo abstaining and White voting no. Conrad, Dinsmore, Molinaro, Pifer, Baun and Conner voted yes.
The new commission rates are:
• Real Estate Tax, $2 for each bill mailed; $2 for each bill collected; and $2 per installment payment.
• Per Capita/Occupational Tax, $1.50 per bill each mailed and $1.50 for
each bill collected.