Teachers association closes contract talks with Bethlehem school district

The Bethlehem Central School District and its teacher's union have ended contract renegotiations, but with no consensus made the contract remains the same.

As the district faces massive cuts in state aid and proposed expenditure reductions across the board, it approached the Bethlehem Central Teachers Association Union to reopen its current contract, which calls for more than 5 percent raises for this year and next.

Superintendent Michael Tebbano said even though the district didn't realize any savings, he was appreciative of the teachers' willingness to come to the table for the sake of their school.

We tried, and we've explored a number of options. I commend the teachers for at least talking, and I'm very grateful, he said. "I'm saddened we couldn't see this resolved, but we're going to get through this together."

The BCTA is one of the few teacher unions in the state to re-open its contract; a move applauded by district officials and community members alike. Ultimately union representatives and the school's board of education could not agree, though board president James Lytle said they were on the same page.

"I think we came pretty close," he said. "We were not miles apart on this."

Lytle said the unions and the district as a whole are unsure of "what the world is going to look like in even a year from now," and that the cash-strapped district simply couldn't make any future concessions.

"They [teachers] were prepared to give up something and justifiably expected something in return," said Lytle. But in the end, he continued, the district wasn't prepared or in the position to make promises on the union's next contract in return for a reduction in today's.

Lytle concluded that the next BCTA contract negotiation would be "tough."

The current contract contains 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.

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