SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Teachers in Scranton enter their fifth year without a new contract.

The Federation of Teachers is planning to strike Wednesday. State mediators met with teachers and the school district prior to the public school board meeting Monday night. But are they any closer to a deal?

Around 450 people attended the meeting Monday night. Tensions and emotions were high as hundreds of Scranton educators prepare to strike.

The Scranton Federation of Teachers marched into Monday night’s school board meeting singing “Solidarity Forever.” The meeting began with district solicitor John Audi saying the district will cut off their health benefits during the strike.

“To cease all compensation including healthcare benefits for the duration of the strike,” Audi said, which was met with a chorus of boos from the crowd.

Several SFT members called the move “heartless” during public comment.

“This board cutting healthcare benefits, mid-pandemic is heartless. And it’s a first in school district history,” SFT member and third-grade teacher Pat Festa said.

“Our son Jack is in kindergarten, and our daughter Katelyn is in second grade. You don’t know them, but you just cut their health coverage, along with plenty more SSD students whose mom or dad work within the district,” teacher and SFT member Breda Holmes said.

Healthcare is one of the main points of contention between the district and its teachers, who have gone without a contract for several years. Teachers don’t want to give up their current healthcare coverage for the district’s alternative option, which SFT president Rosemary Boland said is worse.

SFT members during public comment said the district’s alternative healthcare option comes with an “astronomical” deductible. Astronomical, like the disparities in compensation, according to the teachers who pointed out the six-figure salaries of district officials like Dr. Candis Finan, compared to the starting teacher salary of around 38,000 a year.

They said teachers’ salaries have been frozen for years, while top-level administrators received 25 percent raises. Former mayor of Scranton, Jimmy Connors, spoke up for teachers.

“Some of us in this room are making an awful lot of money, and others are barely able to pay their bills,” Connors said.

Teachers and taxpayers confronted the board of directors about the programs that were cut under the financial recovery plan.

“You’re still getting pre-k funding, and yet we don’t have a pre-k program, where’s that money?” Scranton resident and grandparent Paul Melon asked.

Teachers said pre-school, along with programs such as library and music, have been cut and students are suffering.

“I appreciate everything paraprofessionals and teachers do,” Superintendent Missy McTiernan said to boos.

Superintendent McTiernan discussed arrangements for school lunch deliveries and childcare options for parents. The strike begins Wednesday.

Courtesy: Scranton School District