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Bethlehem teachers open up contract negotiations

The Bethlehem Central Teachers Association Union is 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 their current contract with the district.

Tebbano said he couldn't specify 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 likely be looking for reductions.

"If we didn't do any reductions, the tax levy would be too high for this community to support," said Tebbano at the budget meeting. "We're not alone in this situation."

He also took a moment to commend the teachers for coming back to the table.

"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, just because discussions with the teacher's union have opened up, it does not mean any contractual changes with the teachers will occur.

"There is no guarantee that this will go anywhere," 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.

Tebbano hasn't publicly announced any reduction in teaching staff but has repeatedly warned, referring to the upcoming school budget, that the district is going to be facing many "difficult decisions." The superintendent also said Bethlehem is looking for any cost-saving measures it can find, including not replacing certain staffers, such as the soon-to-retire Elsmere Elementary librarian.

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