Coatesville teachers make their case to the public

Coatesville Area Teachers Association President Audra Ritter makes a point during Saturday’s Coffee With CATA event.

By Lauren Parker, News Editor, The Times

COATESVILLE – The Coatesville Area Teachers Association held its second Coffee with CATA meeting Saturday morning at the Steelworkers’ Union Hall in the city to speak publicly on the contract negotiations with the Coatesville district that have been underway for nearly 14 months.

CATA president Audra Ritter began by explaining that the purpose of the meeting was to address miscommunication and rumors regarding contract negotiations. She also thanked CASD school board president Dean Snyder for attending, as he is a part of the negotiations process.

Ritter was quick to address the comment made by the district’s chief negotiator, Michael Levin, in a press release provided by the district last week.

“The union insisted on keeping its gold-plated health care plan and seeking excessive wage increases instead of looking at options which drive health care costs down and dollars saved toward salaries.” Levin stated.

Ritter said that the teachers were being unfairly singled out.

“Every full-time employee of the CASD is under that same benefits plan if they choose,” said Ritter. “I have those benefits, custodians have those benefits, secretaries, Dr. Taschner has those benefits…the HR director has those benefits.”

Ritter went on to explain that while everyone pays into those benefits, the amount each person pays varies, stating that some administrators pay less for the same benefits package, even though their salaries are higher.

According to Ritter, at one of the negotiations meetings, the teachers union proposed moving on benefits and asked the negotiations committee for the school board if they had considered looking into other companies and policies that would possibly offer better packages or pricing. The district stated they had not and would not look into it, yet invited CATA to look into for themselves. They agreed, asked for numbers to be provided by the district to begin the process, which was about four to six weeks ago, and have not yet received that information.

Josh Maxwell, mayor of Downingtown, who attended the meeting Saturday, also took issue with the press release provided by the district and raised the question about the amount of respect being shown by the school board toward the teachers, for “calling out their employees on the front page of a newspaper.” He also stated that he found the comment by Levin, regarding the gold-plated benefits package, egregious and even went so far as to say that reading about it ruined his morning coffe

A slide from Saturday’s event, shows that Coatesville’s teachers were still be among the lowest paid in the county, even with their proposed pay increase. Slide: Courtesy CATA.

During the discussion regarding the pay increase that the union is proposing, Ritter pointed out that teachers had a contract freeze in 2011 – 2012 and a pay freeze in 2013 – 2014. With a proposal of a pay increase of 2.1% and a step increase, which would require 2.7%, the CASD teachers would still be among the lowest paid in Chester County.

“Our top four or five steps aren’t bad but we have the lowest starting salary in the county.” Ritter explained.

Also explained were the increases in salary of administrators. CATA reps understand that a 5% salary increase is on one person’s salary alone, whereas a 5% increase for all 500 members of the teachers union would be in the neighborhood of $40 million, which requires more money.

“With the board’s last proposal, and the board has given us two proposals, they said net zero, which means they won’t pay out any more money.” Ritter said. “Every teacher in this room is making less money this year because our benefits went up but our salaries stayed the same.”

This translates to no increase in pay, plus the board is proposing teachers pay increase their contribution to benefits by 13%, resulting in making even less money going forward.

“When we put our first proposal out there, of course we asked for a 5% raise but we know that’s not our final end game, just like the district came back with zero because that’s where they want to start.” Ritter said.

Addressing a Facebook post made by school board member Tom Siedenbuehl earlier in the month, in which he stated, “It was a sad evening for me! Dedicating most of my free-time to serve our students and giving back to the community it is depressing to learn that being a teacher is nothing else as a job you choose in order to make a living and pay your mortgage. That your “lifetime income” is your main goal.”

Ritter said that being a teacher is definitely a calling and that most teachers love their job and live for that moment when a student finally understands something they have been working to teach them. However, like everyone else, teachers have student loans to pay, bills, utilities and mortgages. They are also planning for their retirement, just like people do in other professions.

Ritter spoke of an anonymous survey that CATA sent out to all teachers. Of approximately 500 members, 355 were returned. 99% of the members who participated said they do not trust the school board and they do not trust the superintendent, 77% do not trust their building administrator and 75% of the staff said the district is not better off now than it was three years ago. 77% said the technology is not better. The results of the survey were given to the school board members in November but have not received a response.

At one point, a community member asked Snyder what he would be doing with the information he gathered from the meeting, pointing out that he was “scribbling away” on his notepad. Snyder declined to give his thoughts that day, out of respect for CATA’s meeting but he did say he appreciates being allowed to attend, and that he intends to give a statement during the school board meeting Tuesday.

After the meeting ended at noon, Snyder and Ritter spoke quietly at the front of the meeting room. During that discussion, Ritter said she suggested holding a Q & A session with the community, in which both Snyder and Ritter would take questions from the audience. According to Ritter, Snyder seemed receptive and said he would bring it to the board for discussion.

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