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BC officials: Teachers 'willing' to review contract negotiations, talks 'confidential'

The Bethlehem Central Teachers Association Union is currently in talks with school officials about the possibility of renegotiating its contact in the face of a financial meltdown that could threaten job security.

Bethlehem Superintendent Michael Tebbano told residents about the contract talks during the district's final public budget meeting on Monday, Feb. 9. He said the teachers were willing to have union representatives re-open its current contract with the district.

Tebbano said he couldn't specify on the nature of the talks because he is sworn to confidentiality, but considering the magnitude of the district's financial dilemma the district doesn't appear to be looking for salary increases or raises, but would be looking for reductions.

"This is monumental for our school district for the teachers to be willing to do this," Tebbano said. "They realize the bigger picture and I applaud them for that."

However, Tebbano warned that just because discussions with the teacher's union have opened up does not mean any contractual changes with the teachers will occur.

"There is no guarantee that this will go any where," he said, "but it's a start."

The current BCTA contract with the district calls for an average of a 3.23 percent salary increase until 2010 with a "step increase" for each position, which translates into a more-than 5 percent salary increase.

With 465 employees covered by the contract, the district's budget increases each year by hundreds of thousands of dollars just to cover the pay raises in this contract alone. There are two other union contracts with the district: The Bethlehem Central United Employees (BCUE) Association and Bethlehem Principals Association (BPA).

The BCUE covers 509 employees, such as maintenance workers and other essential staff and the BPA covers the district's 16 principals and administrators and typically collect the highest salaries.

One resident at the public budget hearing asked if the administrators union is also in talks about renegotiating its contract.

Tebbano said he wouldn't speculate on if the BPA would begin talks, saying

"The district can only negotiate with one union at a time." He added that the district would have to "wait and see" how the discussions went before they could move onto another contract.

Tebbano added that Bethlehem, as far as he knew, was the only school district re-opening a union contract and certainly the only district in the Suburban Council to do so.

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