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McGrew offers update on contract dispute
(Adam Reinherz photo)
Correction: This story was corrected after publication to correct an editing error.
The president of the union representing McKeesport Area School District teachers remains hopeful that a months-long contract dispute is nearing conclusion.
“It’s not as bad as the press is treating it,” said McKeesport Area Education Association president Gerald McGrew Jr.
MAEA has been without a contract since Aug. 31. Weeks ago, the teacher’s union rejected a one-year contract offered by the district, but the decision wasn’t driven by financial greed, according to McGrew.
The issue is really about allowing the district to complete its audit and allow time for the new business manager to “get acclimated to the job,” McGrew said.
Following the Oct. 25 school board meeting, Joseph Villella was hired by the district to serve as business manager. During that meeting, the district also approved an agreement to obtain financial consulting services from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit with funds donated by the Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation.
“We’re at a holding period right now,” McGrew said. “We’ve both pretty much (temporarily agreed) to the language, we’re just waiting.”
MAEA’s negotiating team is meeting again on Nov. 20. After finalizing a proposal and delivering it to the district, McGrew expects a response next month.
“My personal goal is to have everything settled by the January board meeting. I don’t see why that can’t happen,” he said.
In the interim, however, MAEA is planning to hold strike training on Dec. 14.
“We are being proactive with that. We want to have our house in order so if the district wants to continue to not organize themselves then we are prepared to walk,” McGrew said. “The public needs to know that it is not our desire to strike. Me personally, I feel that a strike solves nothing. We can’t strike out of anger — it won’t resolve anything — but we also can’t sit back and have board members say, ‘They will never strike.’”
Following last week’s elections, the board will have four new school directors: Mark Holtzman, who previously served on the board, incumbent Diane Elias, Jason “Shun” Pavlecic, Matthew Keller and former district business manager David Seropian.
“We are being sympathetic to that and giving them time to adjust,” McGrew said.
Meanwhile, tension is rising. “All too often I hear [from fellow teachers], ‘We can’t do that because we don’t have a contract.’” At the same time, “I don’t want to upset my principal because we work well with them,” McGrew said.
The contract dispute is with the school board; administrators are not members of MAEA.
“This union and administration still work very well together. But what the board doesn’t understand is that this is driving a possible wedge between the administration and the teacher’s union,” McGrew said.
Some friendships have been “split” because of this dispute, he continued. “I feel like after it’s all over those bridges can be mended, but until an effort has been made on their part it won’t happen.”
It’s time to clear any misconceptions about this dispute, according to McGrew.
“The public believes this is 100 percent over finances. The district has not been able to make an offer because they don’t know what their finances are. We are just looking for a contract; we’re not being money hungry,” he said. “MAEA feels like we’ve done our homework. We know what they can offer. It’s just up to them to figure out what they have.”
Adam Reinherz is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published November 16, 2023.