Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Uniontown Board Approves Teacher Layoffs

Posted: Monday, March 21, 2011 10:24 pm | Updated: 8:07 am, Tue Mar 22, 2011.

Uniontown board approves teacher layoffs By Carla DeStefano Herald-Standard heraldstandard.com

As Uniontown Area educators prominently displayed signs with messages that urged the district for a fair contract Monday, directors passed a motion to authorize layoffs based on the curtailing of certain programs.

Deep state budget cut proposals and lingering debt in the Uniontown Area School District forced directors to authorize the layoffs, allowing administrators to give ample notification in the event the measure will be taken if programs are cut.

Dr. Charles Machesky, district superintendent, said that a loss of personnel could result through program cuts, but could not specify which programs could be affected. He said the cuts, if they occur, would be based on seniority.

In an 8-0 vote, the board also approved Machesky's recommendation to offer an early retirement incentive for employees who worked in the school district for at least 30 years. The buyout would include a one-time incentive payment of $10,000 and vacated positions would not be filled.

"The savings per individual would be a minimum of $83,000 a year," he said, addressing comments from the public who were pressing for clarification of the two motions. "Nobody is forcing anyone to do anything. We are asking for approval for both of these in case they are needed."

Negotiations are still underway, seven months after the teachers' contract has expired. At a meeting earlier this month between district officials and the association, directors made an offer that included a two-year wage freeze. The association rejected the offer.

David VanNosdeln of Ohiopyle, a business owner in the district and father of two Uniontown Area school students, addressed directors, blaming them for "punishing teachers with their salaries when they did not put the district in debt."

District officials contend that millions of dollars of debt and decreasing help from the government allow for little movement while the teachers claim they are the lowest paid educators in any district in Fayette County.

"These are the people trying to shape this community and make a difference," VanNosdeln said. "These teachers aren't looking to get rich. These teachers are not being selfish in asking for additional pay."

Dario Piccolomini acknowledged that all parties are frustrated, but he feels that now is the time that unity is needed in the district.

"It goes beyond this room. There is a radio station that is constantly making jokes of Fayette County. We are the laughingstock of southwestern Pennsylvania," he said. "Everybody needs to step up as a community and work together here. We need to stop filling pockets and scratching backs and step up."

In other business, the board failed to pass a motion made by Director Philip Holt to hold the line on taxes for the 2011-12 school year.

"Because of the hardship in the district, I propose that the property tax stays the same this year as last years," Holt said.

The motion failed 5-3 with Directors Ken Meadows, Bill Rittenhouse, Paul Bortz, Terry Dawson and Vincent Winfrey opposing. Directors Bill Gerke, Thomas George and Holt voted in favor. Director Lloyd Williams was absent from the meeting.

"It would be fiscally irresponsible to take that stand," Dawson said. "If you don't raise taxes, I do not know who you are even going to create a budget next year."

Turning to other matters, by a 7-to-1 vote, directors approved the closure of the Kindergarten Center at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

Dawson opposed the closure, stating he was in favor of a kindergarten-only setting for first-year students.

"I just really liked that focused approach," he said of the center that has been operating as a kindergarten-only facility for about six years. "But I understand it costs money to operate and it is located in a flood zone, so I understand why it has to close."

Ben Franklin students will return to their home school for the 2011-12 year and Lafayette students will attend Menallen School for a maximum of one year.

In security business, directors voted 5-3 to approve a new school police policy that includes procedures that govern an existing policy that authorizes some school police officers to carry weapons.

According to the district's solicitor, Jim Davis of Davis & Davis Attorneys At Law, in the past, the school board had already authorized some school police officers to carry firearms. The new policy approved Monday was "necessary if force happens to be used, there is a policy in place."

Gerke, George and Holt opposed the motion while Meadows, Rittenhouse, Bortz, Dawson and Winfrey approved.

"That policy should be changed anyhow," said George. "There should be no policy that allows anyone to have a weapon on any school grounds in the district."

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