Teaching Profession

Teachers, Administrators Still at Odds in Pa. District

By Jeff Archer — January 13, 1999 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Though the district’s contentious experiment in private management is over, turmoil persists in the Wilkinsburg, Pa., public schools, where administrators and teachers are engaged in a long-running contract dispute.

Officials of the 2,000-student system are hoping that an arbitration process slated to begin this month can end the labor strife that resulted in an eight-day teachers’ strike just before the winter break.

The Wilkinsburg educators have been working without a new collective bargaining agreement for more than four years. Although the district and the teachers’ union have agreed on one-year contract extensions since then, teachers have received only longevity raises during that period.

While seeking a pay increase, the teachers have also balked this school year at a district proposal to cut costs by shifting health-insurance coverage to a managed-care program.

A History of Dispute

Rifts between labor and management are nothing new in the Wilkinsburg district, which serves a densely populated community adjacent to Pittsburgh. (“Heavy Artillery Weighs in as Fight Over Pa. District Escalates,” April 12, 1995.)

In 1995, the local school board hired Alternative Public Schools Inc. to run one of its three elementary schools. (The Nashville, Tenn.-based firm changed its name to Beacon Education Management LLC in 1997.) The deal was quickly challenged in court by the Wilkinsburg Education Association, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and the National Education Association.

The case went to the state supreme court, which sent it back to the trial court. A judge ruled in 1997 that state law did not permit profit-making groups to run public schools. As a result, Beacon pulled out of the district last summer.

The teachers’ union contends that the expense of the failed privatization effort contributed greatly to the system’s current financial bind.

But district officials say the claim is overblown. While the district’s $18.2 million annual budget hasn’t grown in recent years, the per-pupil cost at the privately run school was about on par with that at the system’s other two elementary schools, they said.

“Certainly, [the management arrangement] may have had a role in terms of the money devoted toward that effort,” said Matthew Hoffman, the lawyer serving as the district’s chief negotiator. “But even without the privatization effort, I believe the district would be in the same financial situation.”

Despite a high tax rate relative to the rest of the region, the lack of wealth in Wilkinsburg means the district cannot easily increase school funding, he said.

Frustrated with the pace of negotiations, the teachers walked off the job Dec. 2. They returned Dec. 14 after agreeing the talks should go to an arbitrator this month. The arbitrator’s conclusions are nonbinding, however, and Pennsylvania labor law allows the teachers to strike for about another week before the end of the school year.

Since privatization ended, “things have gotten a lot better in the schools,” union negotiator Barbara Bell said. “Hopefully, we can put all this behind us.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 13, 1999 edition of Education Week as Teachers, Administrators Still at Odds in Pa. District


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Centering the Whole Child in School Improvement Planning and Redesign
Learn how leading with equity and empathy yield improved sense of belonging, attendance, and promotion rate to 10th grade.

Content provided by Panorama
Teaching Profession Webinar Examining the Evidence: Supports to Promote Teacher Well-Being
Rates of work dissatisfaction are on the rise among teachers. Grappling with an increased workload due to the pandemic and additional stressors have exacerbated feelings of burnout and demoralization. Given these challenges, what can the

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession What Happens When Teachers Are Out of Sick Days?
We asked EdWeek's social media followers to share their school policies on COVID-related sick leave. Here’s how they responded. 
Marina Whiteleather
2 min read
Female at desk, suffering from flu symptoms like fever, headache and sore throat at her workplace
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Explainer: Why Are Chicago Schools, Teachers' Union Fighting?
The issue that caused the most chaos in the roughly 350,000-student district was when and how to revert to remote learning.
3 min read
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and supporters stage a car caravan protest outside City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday evening, Jan. 5, 2022. Chicago school leaders canceled classes in the nation’s third-largest school district for the second straight day after failing to reach an agreement with the teachers union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols. (Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Teaching Profession Some Teachers Are Running Out of Sick Days, and Administrators Are Hesitant to Help
With a shortage of substitutes and pressure to stay open, administrators are reluctant to extend paid time off for teachers with COVID.
13 min read
Professional male social distancing or self quarantining inside a coronavirus pathogen.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Opinion 18 Ways to Improve Teacher Observations
Holding pre- and post-conferences, showing more compassion and less judgment, and organizing peer observations are valuable.
19 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."