CLARION - Contract negotiations are nothing new between the Clarion Area School Board and the Clarion Education Association but the way the negotiations are being handled this year is a change.
For the first time, both sides have brought negotiators to the bargaining table to hammer out a deal.
The Clarion Area teachers have been without a contract since June 30, 2021.
According to Clarion Area Education Association President Kim Stormer, who spoke during the public comment period of the Clarion Area School Board work session Oct. 5, both sides were very close to a deal before both sides brought in negotiators.
For Stormer, it is frustrating both sides can't come together on a deal when it had been relatively easy in the past. She would like to remedy that situation.
"I would just like the opportunity to sit down with the board and talk," Stormer said after the work session. "We've had many opportunities over the past couple years to sit down with the board members. We have a good relationship with our board. We just want to come to the table and finish this. We have one or two items we need to hash out. Let's just finish it so we can focus on the kids."
During the work session, Clarion Area School Board President Hugh Henry stated the only reason the district brought in representation was to level the playing field. The board members believed they were at a disadvantage.
Henry explained the board was fearful PSEA UniServ the group representing the Clarion Area Education Association would be using a negotiator the board had trouble dealing with in the past.
The board is represented by Robert D. Zaruta from the Knox McLaughlin Gornall & Sennett, P.C. in Erie.
Zaruta is also representing the Redbank Valley School District in their labor negotiations with the Redbank Valley teachers. The Redbank Valley Education Association went on strike Sept. 13.
Stormer said originally, the association just approached UniServ to assist with certain issues while Tracy Craig was going to handle the negotiations with the board but when the association saw that the board had Zaruta as its chief negotiator, the UniServ representative Julie Smith advised that she replace Craig as chief negotiator. Smith reasoned that she had worked with Zaruta previously at the Riverview Intermediate Unit and she didn't know if Craig would be able to field Zaruta's questions.
Stormer said she was the associations' chief negotiator in the previous labor negotiating sessions but because she was the association president, she could not be a negotiator in this year's negotiations.
Clarion Area High School social studies teacher David Constantino was not happy to find out the district had brought in Zaruta as its negotiator. Constantino said his wife works at Redbank Valley and his brother works at Punxsutawney and Zaruta has represented the Punxsutawney School Board in contract negotiations.
"The one thing I'm most concerned about is that we're going to reach a deal at some point but when that time comes (Zaruta) won't be here," Constantino said. "He won't have to face the people on a day to day basis. His kids won't have to go to any of the school districts he represents. I don't have faith and confidence in an outside person. What I do have confidence in is the board up here and the people out here. That is the Clarion way. We work together and not just in contract negotiations.
"I believe the people in this room can solve any problem we have."
According to Stormer, the last negotiation session was Aug. 23. She said the board offered a proposal labeled their best and final offer and if it wasn't accepted by the Clarion Area Education Association by December there would be no retroactive pay increase.
The offer was brought to the Clarion Area Education Association membership for a vote and it was unanimously rejected.
Stormer stated since the Aug. 23 meeting the association has approached the board three times asking to meet with the board. Stormer said she approached Clarion Area Superintendent Dr. Joseph Carrico twice about approaching the board and she said she emailed Henry Oct. 1 about setting up a meeting with no response.
Henry apologized to Stormer for not responding to her email. He said he was going to wait to respond until after he reached out to the board on the subject.