District receiver: Approval of teacher contract is ‘silver lining’

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — At long last, a deal is done in the Harrisburg School District.

Almost a year ago to the day, a sea of teachers wearing red were seeing red as they protested before a school board meeting.

“If I can’t make money and support my family, I don’t want to choose between my family and my students,” Harrisburg Education Association president Jody Barksdale said in 2019.

My, how the times have changed. A contract agreement between teachers and the administration was approved on Tuesday.

“We have a lot of hope that this administration is here for the kids and they truly want to do the right thing,” Barksdale said.

“When you think about, ‘Oh, there’s a silver lining to every cloud.’ This is indeed the silver lining,” district receiver Dr. Janet Samuels said.

That lining includes a 1% salary increase for teachers across the board.

“We see it as a down payment for our future, and hopefully they’re going to have a balanced budget moving forward. They have a handle on the budget and know where the revenue is coming from,” Barksdale said.

Knowing how much they have to spend has been a challenge for the district. Another challenge has been retaining teachers, and everyone agrees this contract will fix both, making the district more attractive to qualified educators.

“That’s our ultimate goal. We want to get the best people in front of our kids and give them the best education they can get,” Barksdale said.

“It helps to just move us a great springboard to many positive future agreements to come,” Samuels said.

Those agreements will come pretty soon. In January, teachers go back to the negotiation table, but to keep things trending in a positive direction, the district will stay busy.

“We need to look at other areas of our operations — climate and culture in our buildings,” said acting superintendent, Chris Celmer.

This contract also solved a three-and-a-half-year grievance teachers had with the district about being paid their correct salary based on years of experience and education.

Although, not everything was solved. During the next negotiation, the district and teachers will have to talk over how they will tackle the increasing cost of healthcare coverage.

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