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UPSD Teachers Contract Halfway to a Resolution
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            The contract dispute between the Upper Perkiomen Education Association and the school board could soon be settled. A vote today by the district's teachers union could end a 15-month process.

            Last week, the school board voted to approve a report from an arbitrator appointed by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. Approximately 240 UPEA members are scheduled to consider the recommendations from fact-finder John M. Skonier, according to Philip Detwiler, the association's vice president.

            Without discussion, the school board voted 8-1 to accept all the directions in the document during its March 9 regular meeting. Raeann Hofkin cast the lone vote opposing the action item. Hofkin wrote in a text message the following day that there were proposals she did not agree with.

            Board President Melanie Cunningham refused to divulge any details of the recommendation after the public meeting. Cunningham, one of three members of the board's negotiating committee, said she was satisfied with Skonier's proposal.

            Hofkin declined to comment on those details until after the union votes on it. A vote by the teachers rejecting the recommendation would send both parties back to the bargaining table.

            The board and the teachers have 10 days to vote on Skonier's presentation, which they received March 6. Cunningham said the board discussed the document during executive sessions immediately prior to the public meeting on March 8.

            One day later, Detwiler declined to provide any details on the recommendation, which was presented to the union members prior to the March 9 meeting. He described the document, which covers at least 40 pages, as very specific. He said it addresses the three main issues of contention -- money, health care and preparation time -- between the parties.

            "The report is very detailed on all issues of dispute," said Detwiler, a middle school social studies teacher.

            Board and union members participated in a Feb. 10 Zoom hearing before Skonier that lasted all day, said Cunningham. Everyone who testified was sworn in.

            The PLRB appointed Skonier earlier this year after negotiations reached an impasse. The lawyer has handled 2,700 total arbitration cases, including 980 involving teachers.

            A page on the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's Bureau of Mediation page identifies Skonier as a PLRB conciliator since 1987 who charges a $2,400 per diem fee. It states that he has served as the neutral fact finder or arbitrator in over 500 Act 88, Act 195 and Act 111 matters, including fact finding cases in the Methacton, Lower Merion, Tredyffrin/Easttown and Great Valley districts.

            Teachers have worked more than 220 days without a new contract. They have operated under the terms of the old agreement, a three-year deal that expired on June 30, 2022.

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

            "It became a real sticking point," Detwiler said. "We couldn't agree to something we know will put a lot of teachers underwater."

            UPEA President Bob LaSalle said 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 previously that the issue was never discussed during contract negotiations.

            Though negotiations officially started in January 2022, the parties didn't get to the bargaining table until April, noted Detwiler, who expressed cautious optimism three months ago that the parties could reach an agreement.






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