LEWISTOWN - "It's time for the Mifflin County School Board to stop trying to balance the district's budget on the backs of the district's lowest paid workers," is the message sent out Thursday by the Mifflin County Support Association-PSEA in response to the board's May 23 rejection of a fact finder's report to solve a year-and-half impasse in contract negotiations for custodial and cafeteria workers.
In a press release, the association asserts that the school board is wrong to "force the lowest paid employees to take salary and benefit cuts or face the prospect of being fired and having their work subcontracted to an out of town for-profit corporation."
The release states custodians and cafeteria employees agreed to wage cuts of 1.6 percent and a 20 percent reduction in salaries for new hires. A neutral third party state fact finder from the Pennsylvania State Labor Board agreed with the union, the release noted.
"The school board is continuing to bully these employees," said Barry Kinslow, co-president of the Mifflin County Support Association-PSEA. "First, they threatened to fire them and subcontract their jobs, then they forced the issue to fact finding, which cost taxpayers and the union more than $2,500. Then the school board voted to reject the fact finding report, even though it provided the district with salary concessions. Enough is enough.
"It is demoralizing that the school board would give every other district employee a 2.2 percent salary increase next year, including administrators and the superintendent, all whom earn more than $100,000 a year yet they think paying employees a few dollars above minimum wage is too much. Now they want these employees to pay more of their health care than any other employee in the district. There is something morally and fundamentally wrong with expecting the lowest paid workers to take cuts while others are taking pay increases."
When contacted on Thursday, Mifflin County Superintendent James Estep said he cannot comment specifically on negotiations but he noted that the board is required by law to vote on the issue a second time.
"We're trying to set up a special voting meeting in early June for the sole purpose of meeting the state requirements and voting on the report a second time," Estep said. "We can't predict with certainty how they'll vote the second time around. In the meantime, we have another negotiating session scheduled for June 11. The district intends to continue the negotiating process in good faith as it has since the negotiations started."
In the release, the association said it is hopeful that board members will reconsider their vote and "do the right thing."
"Our school board members are elected to represent the community," stated Pam Colyer, co-president of the Mifflin County Support Association. "It's time they listen to us. Stop playing political games with people's lives. It is unfair.
"As the school employees and elected school board we should be setting an example for our students. Bullying tactics are something we don't allow in our public schools and we shouldn't condone it in the board room either."
The five-page fact finder's report can be viewed online by following this link:
www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=1521067&mode=2. Community members may also view the fact finder's report as an attachment to this article posted on The Sentinel website, www.lewistownsentinel.com.