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Harrisburg schools, teachers union reach accord

  • The central office of Harrisburg Unit District 3.

    The central office of Harrisburg Unit District 3.
    Travis DeNeal photo

updated: 3/23/2017 11:52 AM

HARRISBURG --The Harrisburg Unit 3 school board and the teachers' union have reached an agreement that finally should put a new labor contract into effect.

"Folks, I am overjoyed to report to you that as of this morning, we have cleared through both committees the last two language items that will allow us to sign a contract with the HEA," Superintendent Mike Gauch said Tuesday in the Harrisburg Middle School media center.

He said the board's negotiating team agreed with the Harrisburg Education Association's negotiators that teachers will meet and vote on the contract Thursday. If the contract is ratified by HEA, the board will call a special meeting Monday to approve it, he said.

He also said that, as an incentive to the union, the board would agree it would not approve reduction-in-force notices for two positions. The board had called a special meeting last week that included discussion of laying off two teachers, though that meeting later was canceled. Tuesday's meeting could have included RIFs.

"There will be no RIFs tonight, and if the contract is signed, there will be no RIFs this year," he said, which prompted applause from the teachers.

Debbie McGowan, HEA lead negotiator, said changes to language items made the deal agreeable to the union.

"We just had adjustments to language items," McGowan said. "Hopefully we will approve it. We're going to recommend they vote 'yes' on the 23rd."

The largest point of contention concerned a policy by which teachers could borrow up to 15 days of sick leave from a future year without first using personal days or having any sort of prior approval from an administrator.

Board negotiators wanted first to eliminate the benefit because of concerns that a teacher could leave the district before the year from which time was borrowed occurred without repayment.

In addition, though the language was intended for those with an extended illness or medical issue, no proof of medical care was required.

The new language will withhold payment of borrowed sick time from a teacher's last payment from the district if the teacher is leaving and sick time is owed. Also, teachers borrowing sick leave will be placed on "furnish-proof status," meaning a physician's statement will be required to avoid disciplinary measures.

Certain exceptions -- serious illness of the teacher or teacher's family member, maternity leave, and bereavement leave -- are in the language.

Plus, other situations may be brought by HEA to the superintendent to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

If disciplinary measures are needed, the superintendent's decisions will be final and not subject to the union's grievance procedure.

The other key piece of language creates a joint insurance committee with four HEA members, the superintendent, a principal or assistant principal, one Service Employees International Union member, one non-certified staff member and one school board member. The four HEA members combined will have a single vote on the committee.

Any labor contract will be retroactive to July 1, 2016, upon approval.