Despite the March 15 picketing of 60 to 75 Wilson School District teachers at the Spring Ridge Elementary School, Broadcasting Road, the Wilson Education Association is still negotiating with the school board.

"I'm still hopeful we can still settle before the end of the school year without doing anything else such as striking," said Chief Union Negotiator David Hause. Teachers have been working without a contract since June 30, 2005. He said picketers handed out flyers with the Wilson Education Association's (WEA) position for negotiating a five-year contract.

"There were no derogatory comments," said Hause. "We got 'thumbs up' and people honked their horns. We have a great faculty and we want an end to contract negotiations and the same salary increases other teachers receive in Berks County."

The Wilson School Board Negotiating Committee said the five-and-a-half hour meeting on March 7 yielded some progress in negotiating an agreement with the teachers union. The three key areas of dispute - salary, health insurance, and planning time - are still unresolved.

The next negotiation meeting is March 30.

Hause said the meeting would be closed to the public. According to the Sunshine Act, the meeting would be open if either side was expected to take official action in the form of a vote after deliberating.

"We told board members at the March 7 meeting that we're looking for more details before opening the meeting to the public," said Hause. "Our position is still under discussion by the board."

Hause said 340 union members out of 371 total attended the March 20 board meeting in support of the terms they are seeking in a five-year contract. Hause read a prepared statement to the board reminding them that WEA wants a contract before the end of the year and that there were positive negotiations on Feb. 7 and Feb. 22.

Hause said the major dispute area is health insurance benefits.

The November 2005 fact-finder report recommended the district continue to pay up to 10 percent of health care premiums. Increases beyond the 10 percent would result in negotiations to change the plan or payments by employees; for the 2005-06 school year, teachers would pay approximately 4.5 percent of health care premiums.

WEA rejected the fact-finder's report.

"We had a plan through Blue Cross - the classic, traditional health plan and those who kept it are paying $48 a month," said Hause. He said the other 80 percent who have the PPO plan would incur a 17 percent premium increase this year that would be retroactive to Jan. 1. A 21 to 23 percent increase is expected next year.

"We want a dollar amount, not a percentage," said Hause. "No one else [no other school districts] in the county does that [paying a percentage versus a dollar amount]. We're trying to compare ourselves to other teachers. We're trying to negotiate a dollar amount retroactive to the beginning of the year."

Hause said WEA is also seeking a five percent salary increase within the five-year contract period. He said a five percent salary increase would be comparable with other teacher salaries in Berks County.

The fact-finder report recommended the five-year contract include salary increases of 4.2 percent per year over five years - from $54,601 to $67,072.

The third unresolved area is planning time. The report recommends that teachers receive a minimum of 30 minutes per planning period, with a total weekly planning time of 200 minutes within the teacher day.

The school board accepted Dec. 19 the terms of the fact-finder's report, which they said "represents a generous compensation and benefits package that includes numerous changes that were beyond what the school board was willing to propose." The board accepted the changes "in the hopes of securing labor peace in the district."

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