We have been through a difficult stretch. And we still have a long process in front of us to settle the major issues in the contract negotiations. In the meantime, I hope there are some lessons to be learned from the experience that will be of value to the school district, the Association, and the community.The first and foremost is that any strike in a public school system is wrong. It is the local equivalent of what used to be called "mutually assured destruction." It tears into the district and the community. Neither side wanted the strike.
Therefore both sides must have made some mistakes in order for the unwanted to happen.
Let me be clear. The proposals made by both sides cannot both be correct. But that is not the mistake of either side that caused the strike. Somewhere, the process we were using to confront the differences in the proposals did not work. In calmer times down the road, we need to re-examine this negotiation process to see where it went off track and how we can do better.
The second point is that Act 88 is flawed. It provides no absolute path for the resolution of our differences. It permits us to have strikes, and then arbitration, and if there is no agreement, we can do the whole process over the following year. I had asked rhetorically, "what is the purpose of the strike?" I would ask in addition, "what is the purpose of a piece of legislation that accomplishes nothing?"
The third, but perhaps most important point is that this negotiation involves the community. You have watched us closely, expressed your opinions about our conduct and our proposals, and even offered to help us. If there are doubts about the functioning of democracy at the higher state and national levels, there is no doubt about its health at our local level. Even the fact that we received criticism is reassuring. It means that what we are doing matters to our residents.
We had more than one offer by community members to help mediate the impasse in our negotiations. These came from private citizens, business leaders, and our church leaders. The offers to help were well-conceived and earnest. It all speaks very well for the values of this small community. Both sides thank you for your involvement.
As I said at the outset, we now have a pause in the action, but by no means a resolution. We will be involved in non-binding arbitration for the next several weeks. This process will provide an independent review of the two proposals on the table. The report will be made available to the community.
We thank you for your patience with a process that has involved some controversy, considerable inconvenience, and no clear end yet in sight.
Ralph Puerta is president of the Saucon Valley School Board. His column, "Our Schools," appears in The Saucon News on a biweekly basis. To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org