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GNA union, teachers see talks stall

Negotiator will push for public summit if no deal reached at next contract meeting, on March 12.

NANTICOKE – Contract talks between the Greater Nanticoke Area School District and its teacher union have stalled.

School district board member and negotiating committee chairman Bob Raineri wants to hold a public meeting with the district’s teachers to explain what the district has offered the union. After almost three years of discussions, the two sides still cannot reach an agreement.

“I don’t think half the teachers know what is being offered back and forth,” he said.

Raineri said he will push for this meeting if a new contract is not agreed upon by both sides during the next contract meeting on March 12.

Greater Nanticoke Taxpayers Forum President Hank Marks welcomes the public meeting so all residents can see how much in benefits and salary the teachers earn.

Marks, a Nanticoke native, is worried the teachers are trying to bankrupt the district.

“Their benefits are more than what the average family in Nanticoke earns,” he said. He said the annual benefits package – health care costs, pension plans and other benefits – totals $30,000 for teachers, more than the salary of the average Nanticoke resident.

As Marks stood up to speak during Thursday night’s school board meeting, about 30 to 40 district employees, identified by board members as teachers, left the room.

“I thought, for a bunch of professional people, that showed some ignorance to leave the room while I was speaking,” he said.

The teachers could be heard standing outside the room speaking for a few minutes as Marks addressed the board.

Board member Cindy Donlin apologized to Marks for what she said was rude – teachers walking out while he was speaking. Some teachers stayed to hear what Marks had to say.

Health insurance and early retirement incentives are the main sticking points in the contract talks.

Like several other districts throughout Luzerne County, Nanticoke’s health insurance costs have increased dramatically in the last several years.

Costs for single coverage have increased from $2,134.56 per employee in the 1999-2000 school year to $6,031.20 in 2007-2008, according to the fact-finder report released by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, in December. Family coverage costs rose from $6,059.76 to $18,148.56 during the same time period.

The district does not want to reinstitute the early retirement incentive, which in the past has provided teachers a bonus check for retiring early instead of staying on the district’s payroll. The incentive expired the day before the teachers union contract did in 2005.

While he wants to be fair to the teachers, Raineri said he was elected to represent district taxpayers.

“We are here to protect the taxpayers of the city. We can’t give away the whole house. We have to watch the amounts we offer. It is one reason it has taken so long,” Raineri said.

Teachers union representative Barbara Zaborney and Pennsylvania State Education Association Uniserv Representative Jane Brubaker did not return calls for comment. Brubaker is the lead negotiator for the teachers union.

What’s next?

Both sides will meet again to discuss the teachers’ contract at 6 p.m. March 12, in the district’s board room at Nanticoke High School.

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