I-Team Special Report: On the Line

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(WBRE/WYOU-TV) Should Pennsylvania teachers be allowed to strike?
    It’s a question that is once again being asked in our region and across the Commonwealth after teachers in two area school districts–Dallas and Abington Heights – hit the picket lines in recent weeks – and threaten to do so again. There is a move underway in Harrisburg to ban such strikes in the Commonwealth..   Tonight the I-Team’s Andy Mehalshick takes a closer look at the issue that many people say can tear apart a community..

Dallas.
Abington heights.
Montrose.
Stroudsburg.
It’s become a common sight in Pennsylvania..
All to common some people say.
Teachers on the picket line students staying home while they walk.

Parents recently protested against teachers walking out in the Dallas School District say – they’ve had enough.

Joanna Cunningham children attend school in the Dallas School District. She told Eyewitness News “it’s something we feel very passionate about. When Dallas went on strike the first time we kind of said ‘what can we do so this doesn’t happen again to our kids. So it doesn’t happen to teachers as well as affect the entire community’.”

Pennsylvania is one of 14 states in the nation which allows teachers to strike – as long as students get 180-days of instruction in a school year.

And teachers are taking advantage of that, the Commonwealth had the highest number of walkouts in the nation between 2010 and 2015 with 20. Illinois was second with 16.

Pennsylvania: 20
Illinois: 16
California:5
Washington: 5
Oregon: 4

Source: Education week teacher magazine

That’s why Cunningham and other Dallas parents are promoting a statewide  petition supporting  House Bill 920..
It is called “The Strike Free Education Act.” the key elements of the legislation include:

Eliminates strike option while guaranteeing: Mediation, fact-finding and non-binding arbitration.

It Does not force either side to accept the contract.

“It creates a very structured timeline of how and when change will occur. It will bring mediation to the table right away. Fact-finding right away.” Said Cunningham.

 
“I’m going to make a very bold statement: It’s actually un-American.”

John Holland is the Region’s Field Manager for the Pennsylvania State Education association. The largest teachers’ union in Pennsylvania..

“When you’re talking about school boards they are government entities. Citizens, which teachers are, have a right to seek redress from government officials.” Said Holland.

 Holland, who has become the face and voice of local teacher unions, denies the claims made by many that teacher strikes have a negative impact on students and their families..

 
“Well actually the strikes don’t hurt children the strikes are an exercise in democracy and it teaches children to stand-up for themselves when they see something that isn’t right.” Said Holland.

 
“I know some parents that have children in high school, these are parents who’s children during PSSA’s that affects their scores. It affects their test scores and their abilities to get ready for achievement tests and SAT preparations.” Noted Cunningham


Robert Mehalick has a unique vantage point on this issue.
He is a member of the Hazleton Area School Board and is also the superintendent of the Carbondale Area School District.
He has to help negotiate those contracts, and help adjust schedules if teachers walk out – and yet he’s not opposed to the ability for teachers to strike.

 
“While I don’t ever hope to be in a strike situation I think the opportunity for our teachers for one last effort to maybe get things going when they’re at a stalemate. I wouldn’t want them to have that taken away from them.” said Mehalick.

“It’s a great disruption to families and students.” Senate John Yudichak says he is not familiar with House Bill 920  but did say.

 “Pennsylvania needs to look at an arbitration process that will prevent teacher strikes across the Commonwealth.”

At least twice since 2005, banning strikes has been considered by lawmakers – it’s never made it to a vote.

  Eyewitness News asked John Holland of the PSEA- if the teachers’ union are so strong that this bill doesn’t stand a chance because the teachers lobby is so strong it will intimidate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle?

 Holland said “I don’t believe that at all. “

But supporters of this effort to prevent teacher strikes are confident that the timing is right for major changes in the teacher-school district bargaining process.

House Bill 920 is currently before the house committee on education. Hearings on the details of the legislation are expected to take place next month.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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