Scranton, PA. – The Scranton Federation of Teachers said today that bargaining has failed to reach a tentative contract agreement and teachers and support staff will strike on Wednesday, Nov. 3.
“See us on the picket lines. Scranton educators, parents and students have sacrificed and sacrificed, and we are tired of holding the bag for district mismanagement—it’s bad for teachers and bad for kids,” said SFT President Rosemary Boland.
Picket lines will be reportedly set up at 16 sites around the city on Wednesday, with educators picketing from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Boland said the union and the district were far apart on major issues that are causing the district’s devastating staffing and morale crisis. To make for an even more contentious situation, the district announced it was cutting healthcare for SFT members as of 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, when the strike begins, which the union called “soulless.”
“Scranton’s public schools are in crisis, and instead of fixing it fairly—using the new, available funds from the federal rescue and recovery packages—the district and the state-appointed financial manager just want teachers to keep sacrificing,” Boland said.
“The city’s great teacher and staff exodus can be traced right back to local and state officials and a long-standing austerity agenda that has starved schools and educators of what they need to teach. That agenda includes cutting health benefits; freezing salaries for five years; devastating cuts in preschool, library and many course electives; a reduction in classroom supports for special education students; school closures with others on the chopping block; and a gross disrespect for educators,” she said. “The district can’t attract or retain educators—or even substitutes—and classrooms are overcrowded because of it.”
At least 113 educators have left the district over the past two years—that is one-eighth of all Scranton teachers and paraprofessionals.
Boland laid additional blame on the Republican-led Legislature, the state financial manager, and the school district and board. “They are to blame for insisting on an unacceptable, unnecessary austerity diet that denies our students what they need to recover, learn and thrive.”
The union has proposed using federal aid from the American Rescue Plan and state funding sent to Scranton for further investments in the public schools, a solution that would not raise taxes.
“We have suggested a very viable solution to fix this alleged budget crunch. Scranton has received $60 million in federal education aid, but the school board and the state recovery officer have refused to tap into it for staffing; the aid would cover not only educator and school staff wages, but important additional staffing for students. In fact, they want to cut more than $7 million more from the school budget over the next three years. This is madness,” Boland said.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said a fair contract is long overdue.
“Educators didn’t create this mess, but they’re being asked year after year to pay for the district’s long-term fiscal issues. Scranton is one of the poorest districts in the state, one of the reasons why we need more state funding for education. You can’t possibly recruit teachers and support staff when you ask them to accept salaries below the state average and take cuts in healthcare,” Weingarten said. “Teachers haven’t had a raise in five years, but they’ve kept the schools afloat. I can’t fathom why school leaders would rather hurt teachers and punish kids with devastating cuts to pre-K, libraries and other critical programs than use the millions of federal dollars intended for education that are pouring into the city.”
AFT Pennsylvania President Arthur Steinberg said state and Scranton school officials should work with educators, not fight them, to provide a high-quality public education.
“This avoidable situation in Scranton should teach the Republican-led Legislature and school officials a very important lesson—stop insisting on giving kids a public education on the cheap and expect success. Students in Scranton and across the state need a well-funded public education that will get them capably from high school to college or career,” Steinberg said.