NEW BETHLEHEM - The 77 teachers in the Redbank Valley School District on Monday morning began walking the picket line - a walk that could last several weeks.
The Redbank Valley Area Education Association has been without a contract for more than 800 days. At the heart of the dispute are salaries and insurance coverage.
"We tried to schedule a meeting last night (Sunday), but the district was unwilling to bring a proposal," said Patrick Andrekovich, of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
"We said we'd meet. We're available today (Monday), we're available tomorrow (Tuesday). We're available any time."
According to Andrekovich, the union is still waiting for a response to its most recent proposal.
The Redbank Valley School District, however, addressed the negotiations through a statement on the district's social media page.
"Following last week's meeting, the mediator requested that the parties try to schedule another meeting prior to the strike date," the notice said. "The district was agreeable to meeting and discussing salary frameworks that could meet our proposal but advised all parties that we would not have a formal proposal prepared in that time frame."
The notice stated the union "declined to meet" because the district wouldn't be providing a formal proposal, but "it is the intent of the district to provide a comprehensive formal proposal" during a meeting the week of Sept. 20, "as we indicated we would do two meetings ago."
The notice said the district "has clearly stated" to the union that the district would not have a formal offer ready until after Sept. 17 and has "consistently indicated" that it would be ready for the week of Sept. 20. "There was never a promise to do so earlier than that."
Andrekovich said the district must provide 180 days of education by June 15.
"The state will notify us how long the strike might potentially last," he said. "We could return to the classroom at any point from today (Monday) until whatever date the state gives us."
He said nonbinding arbitration could occur, and if either side would vote down the arbitrator's proposal, the teachers could go back out on strike in the spring and the final date for the 180 days of education would be June 30.
"Right now, we are working on the June 15 date," Andrekovich said. "We could hear from the state as early as today (Monday). We could be out until October. We are hoping we are not."
Andrekovich said teachers also are parents of Redbank Valley students, and it is a "really tough decision" to strike.
"When I hear people say the teachers don't care about the kids, the students are their kids," he said.
Union President Kristen M. Landers said although the students "are not our biological kids, they are still our kids. We care about them and we want to be with them."
Landers said the teachers' plan Monday was for the teachers to be on the picket line until noon and then go to the library to perform community service work.
As for the immediate future, Andrekovich said, "We plan on being out here on the picket line every day."