Monthlong Strike Ends For Pa. District—Along With Breaks
Leaders of the Phoenixville, Pa., public schools have given their students an early holiday gift of sorts this year, but to many it must also feel like a lump of coal.
While a 22-day teachers' strike ended for the suburban Philadelphia system late last week, the duration of the walkout means this year's winter break will be just two days long, instead of the planned six.
Pennsylvania law requires schools to hold class for at least 180 days by June 15 of each academic year. As a result, not only will the district's 3,300 students lose most of this month's vacation, but they also must sacrifice other holidays later as well.
"The kids are the ones who are obviously going to have to pay for the strike," said school board President David M. Langdon. "I know my kids have been telling me they wanted to go back to school. They'd also like to have a break."
The strike began Nov. 8 with the disintegration of contract negotiations, which had been going on since January 1998. Officials of the district and the local National Education Association affiliate could not agree on proposed changes in salaries, health-care benefits, and the length of their work day and year.
The two sides finally hammered out a tentative agreement, which the union approved by a 219-7 vote last week—two days before the triggering of a Pennsylvania law prohibiting teacher strikes from keeping students in school past mid-June.
The school board wasn't slated to vote on the new four-year contract until this week, but students and teachers returned to school last Friday.
The monthlong walkout—which ranks as one of the longest in the country this fall—tried the patience of many Phoenixville families. Early last week, local churches held a candlelight vigil outside the district's administrative offices to call for an end to the impasse.
"I really feel the teachers' union was trying to prove a point, and they could have settled this five weeks ago," parent Nancy McAvoy said after the settlement was reached. "I don't think teachers should be allowed to strike. I don't think children should be held hostage for money."
Union leaders, however, said they had little choice. "I've been sitting here from the beginning, and we have done everything possible to get the negotiations going forward," said Dave Bretzius, the president of the Phoenixville Area Education Association.
Vol. 19, Issue 16, Page 9