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Prep Time Issues Snag UPSD Teacher Negotiations
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

Members of the Upper Perkiomen Education Association display their signs in front of

the west side entrance of the district's education center prior to Monday's school board



           Instructional preparation time has emerged as the main issue in stalled contract negotiations between the Upper Perkiomen School District and its teachers. On Monday, two-thirds of the Upper Perkiomen Education Association (UPEA) appeared at a school board meeting.

            Philip Detwiler, the association's vice president, described it as a show of solidarity by the members in their opposition to a proposed reduction in their prep time. Teachers have worked more than 160 days without a new contract. They have operated under the terms of the old agreement, a three-year deal that expired on June 30.

            According to Detwiler, deliberations hit a snag in August when the district proposed taking away teachers' daily prep time. He said it brought negotiations to a screeching halt.

            "Without that time, our people wouldn't be able to do their job," Detwiler said. "It would be debilitating."

            By 5:30 p.m. Monday, approximately 155 UPEA members lined up at both entrances to the Education Center, located on East Buck Road in Upper Hanover. At 6:45 p.m., they filled the corridor between both doors. Wearing matching blue collared shirts, they held yellow signs with blue letters that read: "Working without a contract since July 1st," "Teacher Retention Requires Respect," and "We Deserve a Fair Contract."

            Approximately five minutes before the start of the 7 p.m. meeting, the teachers filed into the room. Some took a seat in the audience, while most stood in the back and held a sign over their head.

            "We wanted to make sure, in a respectable way, that our members voiced their concerns to the entire school board," Detwiler said Tuesday. "I'm not sure the entire board was getting the message."

            During the meeting, board Vice President Peg Pennepacker announced that the parties – who could not reach a settlement working with a state mediator – have agreed to participate in the formal process of fact-finding, in which a neutral third party appointed by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor hears testimony and facts from both sides and issues a suggested proposal.

            Pennepacker, who chairs the board's Negotiations Committee, said the fact-finder will be appointed on Jan. 17 by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

            Reading from a prepared statement, she said the school board and its administrative team "greatly value the hard work of our very talented and dedicated teaching staff. We are committed to working toward a contract settlement that values both excellent work and respects the many needs of the district."

           Though contract negotiations officially started in January, the parties didn't get to the bargaining table until April, according to Detwiler, who expressed cautious optimism that the parties could reach an agreement. He said the district's proposal to limit teachers' prep time stalled the discussion.  "It became a real sticking point," said Detweiler, a middle school social studies teacher. "We couldn't agree to something we know will put a lot of teachers underwater."

            According to UPEA President Bob LaSalle, district negotiators included language in a document that could have potentially required a teacher to go a full day without any planning time. He said the issue was never discussed during contract negotiations.

            During the meeting, an English/communication teacher at the high school asked the board to provide the necessary prep time that will allow students to succeed. Alicia Austin said the district seems determined to continually erode teacher preparation time.

            "Give us the time to prepare to meet the goals set by the district," Austin said. "Students will suffer when educators are not provided the necessary prep time. Students will suffer when teachers burn out."

            Under the terms of the expired contract, middle school teachers currently have one free period a day, three days a week, during a six-day cycle. Detwiler uses that time for grading and completing lesson plans. He says the district has proposed converting a significant portion of each teacher's unassigned time to assigned time.

            "The district wants to account for every minute of the day," LaSalle said.






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