The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 14, 2014

Central Cambria contract talks still unresolved

EBENSBURG — The Central Cambria school board remains mired in contract negotiations with the Pennsylvania State Education Association. District educators have been working without a contract since June 2012.

Barbara Henning, region field director for the PSEA’s Indiana division, was at the district’s negotiating table on Monday, but did not return calls for comment.

District Superintendent Vincent DiLeo said Monday it was a “good meeting.”

“Things are congenial and it was a good back-and-forth on some of the issues,” he said.

Those issues have remained the same for some time. The district has still not agreed on contract length, the union’s retiree health benefits proposal, nor the pre-retirement benefits.

The Central Cambria Education Association recently took aim at the district through a series of advertisements run in The Tribune-Democrat and another newspaper, accusing Central Cambria administrators of, among other things, playing “political games,” refusing to meet or walking out on negotiations entirely and squirreling away much of the district’s “healthy” $11 million fund balance.

DiLeo denied those claims to The Tribune-Democrat, as well as in a blog post on the district’s website.

“We have no recollection of walking out on any meeting – period,” he said. “We want to get on with the business of education,” he later added.

Not only did union representatives fail to present dates on which the district was reportedly uncooperative, he said, they also failed to get some of the other facts straight.

On the fiscal front, DiLeo said the district can only shift roughly $2 million of the

$11 million fund balance cited in the ad. The other $9 million is locked into assigned funds – teacher salaries, increasing pension costs and capital reserve projects.

Unassigned funds, he said, are “rainy day” reserve monies.

“A lot of districts are balancing their budget by pulling from their reserve,” DiLeo said. “I won’t do that. That’s like pulling money from your savings account.”

That reserve fund takes a while to accumulate, he said, but it “goes quickly.”

The district has held the line on property tax rates for the last several years, DiLeo added.

Although DiLeo speculated that the ads, which list email addresses for all of the board members, mean to draw Central Cambria residents to the teachers’ side, he said it’s having the opposite effect.

“(Board members) got no calls from any community members that were in favor of giving in to the teachers,” he said. “All the calls they’ve gotten have been supportive of the board and what they’re trying to do.

“They feel they’re answering to their union members to try and get the best deal they can,” he said. “We’re answering to the entire Central Cambria community to get the best deal that’s fair for both sides.”

DiLeo said both sides will meet again on Aug. 18.

In other district business, several new educators were approved to join the district faculty. Two instructors were hired at the high school level: Stephanie Beyer, teaching secondary language arts, and Gary Cirelli, teaching social studies.

Three were hired at the middle school level: Renee Fisher, teaching family and consumer science; Amanda Shaheen, teaching mid-level language arts; and Brandon Kochinsky, teaching mid-level math.

At the elementary level, teacher Laura Young was hired.

Also, Christopher Scanlon was approved to assume the recently created role of special education alternative education teacher at both the middle and high schools.

The board also accepted the retirement notice of third grade teacher Jo-Ann Semko, who is also president of the Central Cambria Education Association. Semko said her CCEA successor will be named at a private meeting on July 28.

Justin Dennis covers Central Cambria School District for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @JustinDennis.

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