The Daily Review
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Review Photo/ERIC HRIN Canton teachers attend the school board meeting Thursday.

Canton School Board takes re-vote on fact finder's recommendation

CANTON - The Canton Area School Board took a re-vote on the state fact finder's recommendation for a contract settlement with the district's teachers Thursday, due to a misinterpretation of part of the report.

The board, however, voted not to approve the recommendation, in a unanimous vote. Several teachers attended the meeting. Deb Fitzwater, president of the Canton Area Education Association (CAEA), declined comment following the action, taken at the board's regular monthly meeting.

Following the board's first vote earlier this month not to approve the recommendation, the Canton Area Education Association had announced that it will begin a begin a "working to rule" job action May 13. Stuart T. Karschner, the PSEA-NEA UníServ Representative, had informed the district that although the teachers will continue to meet and exceed all areas to which they are contractually bound, they will cease all volunteer activities.

At the meeting, district superintendent Matt Gordon said that the district does indeed recognize the teachers' volunteer efforts "above and beyond the school day on behalf of our students," and applauds them.

The fact finder's recommendation called for step movement and a 2.25 percent increase, including increment (the cost to the district to move from one step to the next), in salary beginning July 1, 2012; a freeze in step movement and salary for the 2013-14 contract year; and step movement and a 2.25 percent increase for the 2014-15 contract year.

When asked for comment Thursday, district business manager Mark Jannone commented on the misunderstanding on the numbers.

"The fact finding report read 'Step and 2.25 percent,'" he said. "(Karschner) feels that was meant to be '2.25 percent Step inclusive.'"

The school board, representing the district, was proposing a freeze in 2012-13 and step movement only in 2013-14, and, possibly, also in 2014-15, depending on whether or not additional steps are added to the current matrix (salary schedule), according to the fact-finder's report. The school board was proposing no percentage increases.

On Thursday, the school board also provided the following statement in a news release:

"The Canton Area School District's primary function is to provide a quality education to the children who reside within the boundaries of the Canton Area School District. We recognize and appreciate the efforts of our teachers to provide that quality education. We have attracted quality teachers despite being the poorest school district of all 19 school districts in IU17, and we have competitive salaries, starting at $47,607, in comparison to other districts within our Intermediate Unit. The District, while respecting the value and the importance of the work our professional teachers provide, cannot financially and responsibly meet the demands that have been placed on the table by the Association. We also recognize that we are negotiating against a big business with corporate headquarters in Harrisburg with little, if any, contact with the community."

"Any increase in salaries and benefits without a complementary increase in revenue will inevitably require a reduction of educational programming. The goal of the district throughout this economic crisis has been to maintain the current level of educational opportunities for students and not to impact classroom sizes. The Association's contractual demands will result in the alteration of those goals and ultimately will result in the depletion of the Canton Area School District's financial reserves, resulting in bankruptcy. The projected increases in PSERS employer contribution for retirement and health care alone without any salary increase will consume $2.9 million out of the $3.1 million dollar fund balance in 4 years. Fifty-three percent of the entire annual budget is dedicated exclusively to the salary and benefits of the professional teaching staff."

"The projected 10 percent annual increases in health care equate to a $1,500 additional premium payment, for a family plan, each year on behalf of the insured teacher. Each year the district pays that increase on behalf of each insured teacher. The $5 or $10 increase per pay, per year proposed by the union to offset that annual increase is certainly not comparable to the public sector contributions for health insurance, nor does it require any of the accountability that was proposed with a percentage of any future increase that many other plans require. The assertion by the Association that the health insurance premiums were increasing by 83 percent is attributed to this $25 per pay increase from $30 per pay in the first year of the contract to $55 per pay in the third year of the contract. While the percentage is accurate, we believe that you have to look at the total dollar amount to put it in perspective. A teacher in the third and final year of the proposed contract would be paying $110 per month for a benefit that costs the district $1,700 per month. Under the current contract, the teacher pays the same amount whether they are covered as an individual or their entire family is covered. Currently all the health insurance plans offered by the district will be considered 'Cadillac Plans' at various points in time, which will require an Obamacare tax starting as early as 2015-16. The third year of the proposed contract would dictate the liability of that tax and who would be responsible for paying it. The district is certainly not in a financial situation to assume that risk as well."

"Contrary to the Association's assertions that the Board has made a conscious decision not to adequately fund the education of Canton's children, the Canton Area School District has raised the tax millage for the past 6 out of the past 7 consecutive years. The Canton Area School District's ability to raise local revenue is restricted by the limits of the Act 1 adjusted index of 2.5 percent as determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. In one of those years, the Act 1 index was actually exceeded due to economic exceptions. The insinuation that Canton School District residents are not being taxed enough, since 405 school districts rank higher in tax effort, is not an accurate assessment. Property market values and poverty levels need to be taken into consideration in that calculation. Canton has the highest market value/aid ratio (.7347) of all 19 districts in IU 17. You can't get blood from a stone. Our past tax increases, imposed upon the poorest school district in IU 17, are already causing financial hardship for many of our taxpayers."

Jannone touched on some of these points in his report to the board at the meeting.

Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: reviewtroy@thedailyreview.com.

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