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MASD, Teachers Settle Contract Dispute

Educators praised at MASD meeting — agreement called ‘huge relief’ for both sides

By Adam Reinherz
The Tube City Almanac
February 12, 2024
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Students from the arts enrichment class at Founders’ Hall Middle School show their work to school directors during Thursday’s meeting. (Adam Reinherz photo for Tube City Almanac)

After a nearly-seven month dispute between the McKeesport Area School District and the McKeesport Area Education Association, both sides have agreed to a new five-year contract.

District board members announced the agreement during Thursday’s meeting.

“Thank you to all those who were involved,” board president Mark Holtzman said. “I believe it was a pretty fair and equitable contract for the teachers and I’m very pleased to see that.”

Board member Dave Seropian, who previously served as the district’s business manager for more than 20 years, led MASD’s negotiating team.

Seropian credited his fellow board members and superintendent Tia Wanzo with enabling him, business manager Joseph Villella and solicitor Gary Matta to conduct a series of effective meetings: “We prepared for negotiations in December and began meeting with the teachers’ negotiating team on Jan. 8. And we mutually committed to try and get an agreement done.”

That five-year agreement, which retroactively goes into effect, was approved by the board on Feb. 1 and will last until Aug. 31, 2028, according to Matta.

Though a member of the negotiating team, Matta deflected credit for resolving the contractual quarrel.

Seropian’s leadership, knowledge of district finances and relationship with the teachers — stemming from decades of work in district — enabled a timely and amicable end to the dispute, the solicitor said: “Negotiations went in a completely different tone, and I really don't believe that we would have been here last week approving a contract if it wasn't for [Seropian’s] involvement.”

“This is an agreement that is fair to both the teachers and the taxpayers in our district, which was our goal,” Seropian said before praising the “hardworking and dedicated teaching staff for working the school year up until last Thursday without a contract.”

The board member also highlighted Gerald McGrew, Ashlee Boyle and other members of the teachers’ negotiating team, “who worked tirelessly to accomplish something sorely needed in our district.

“I'm optimistic that we'll now move forward, and we'll continue to work collaboratively, since after all we're all in this together,” he added.

Wanzo said the agreement is a “huge relief” to both sides: “Starting the school year off without having a contract, and going into a time of uncertainty, was a challenge for all of us. I am very proud of how everyone worked through it to get to this point.”

During the nearly seven-month span teachers spent without a contract various tactics were adopted to keep morale high, she explained.

Whether it was saying thank you, allowing staff to leave early the day before a holiday or simply “doing something special” for them, it was important to demonstrate appreciation for the teachers’ and their unwavering dedication to students, Wanzo said.

Near the end of Thursday’s meeting, one teacher’s commitment to his students was singled out by several board members. Kenneth Mitchell, who taught at the high school for four decades, died in 2022.

Board member Matthew Holtzman described Mitchell as “very important and maybe the best teacher I’ve ever had.”

“Putting up a memorial, or an image of him, on the wall next to that classroom would give something for educators and teachers in the district to aspire to be like,” Holtzman added.

Board member Dave Donato similarly praised Mitchell’s role within the district and raised a motion that a commemorative plaque be installed outside Mitchell’s former classroom at the high school. The motion passed unanimously.

Adam Reinherz is a freelance writer. He can be reached at adam.reinherz@gmail.com. 

Originally published February 12, 2024.

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