Hempfield teachers, who have been working without a contract for more than two months, aren’t being shy as negotiations drag on between union representatives and the board.
As proof, more than 150 district employees showed up at Tuesday’s school board meeting — some of them even camping outside the administration building — and watched silently as the board conducted its business.
Hempfield Education Association President Rik Appleby said the demonstration was a respectful way to “observe the process.”
“We continue to work toward a fair settlement … and what’s best for kids,” Appleby said after the meeting. “Our working conditions are the students’ learning conditions.”
Several dozen residents also attended the meeting, and a handful of them used the public comment period to advocate for the district’s teachers.
In an email through the district’s spokesperson, board President Bill Otto said he appreciated community members getting involved and reiterated the board’s hope that negotiations proceed smoothly.
“While it would not be appropriate to discuss contract negotiation details as the school board and HEA continue to bargain in good faith,” he said, “it is important for the public to know that our board members strongly desire to come to an agreement with the HEA that is competitive for our valued teaching staff but also fiscally responsible and sustainable for all community stakeholders.”
Among the residents to speak out was Caroline Gangle, who said the impasse was “ridiculous” and called out the board for its legal spending.
LNP reported in August that the district has paid its solicitor, Fox Rothschild LLP, $32,700 since contract negotiations began Jan. 1.
“This group of people spends so much time with our children,” fellow Hempfield resident Kerry Mulvihill said. “I just value them so much.”
“It takes a village to help us raise our children," added Matt O’Shea.
The district held a collective bargaining session before Tuesday’s meeting, as well as last week. Another session is scheduled later this month.
The last time Hempfield teachers went this long without a contract was in 2002, Appleby said.
As negotiations continue, Hempfield teachers aren’t expected to perform after hours work, such as grading or making phone calls and emails to parents.
Teachers, meanwhile, will receive salary and benefits according to the previous contract’s final year.
“We made progress,” Appleby said of Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s not done until it’s done.”