Wilkinsburg Should Rehire Teachers, Arbitrator Says

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Teachers who were fired when the Wilkinsburg, Pa., school board turned over management of an elementary school to a private company have won a round in their battle to get their jobs back.

An outside arbitrator ruled Jan. 10 that the 14 teachers in the Pittsburgh suburb should be rehired by the end of the month with pay and benefits dating back to the start of the school year.

District officials quickly vowed to appeal.

The ruling by arbitrator William Caldwell came in response to a grievance filed with the Wilkinsburg school board by the local teachers' union over the dismissal of the teachers. The union has led the fight against the board's decision to turn over the management of troubled Turner Elementary School to Alternative Public Schools Inc.

The ruling was a setback for supporters of the venture, who won a temporary victory in a separate court case in October, when the state supreme court allowed the agreement with Nashville, Tenn.-based APS to continue.

The high court sent the lawsuit, filed against the district by the local union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and the National Education Association, back to lower courts. (See Education Week, Nov. 8, 1995.)

Three Points

Barbara Bell, the chief negotiator for the Wilkinsburg Education Association, said last week that the arbitrator based his ruling on three points: that state law makes subcontracting of teaching services illegal; that the district did not provide the one-semester notice before layoffs in some cases as required by the union's current contract; and that there had been no student-population decline in the 1,900-student district.

Under the teachers' contract, a population decline is a prerequisite for teacher layoffs, she said.

Butch Santicola, a spokesman for the state education association, said teachers were not hailing the ruling as a major victory because it was a step that should have been taken before any other court action. "We're not clapping our hands," he said.

But Charles E. Steele, the school district's lawyer, said the arbitrator's ruling was in direct conflict with the state supreme court's ruling that the contract with APS could continue.

The district's appeal will be heard next by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

Vol. 15, Issue 18

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