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Faculty strikes at Philadelphia-area day school

PHILADELPHIA (JTA) — Faculty at a suburban Philadelphia Jewish day school took to the picket line, carrying out their threat to strike.

Monday’s walkout by the 49 teachers at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pa. — formerly known as the Akiba Hebrew Academy — comes after the faculty and administration could not reach agreement on a new contract. The pluralistic school of 310 middle- and high-school students is expected to be shut for at least a week, the Jewish Exponent reported.

According to an e-mail sent by a representative of the unionized faculty, teachers had agreed in 2008 to work on a one-year contract in order to facilitate a smooth transition for Barrack’s new head of school, Steven Brown. The teachers said they had considered a walkout at the start of the school year when they had no new contract, but opted to give negotiations more time.

"We have made this decision with heavy hearts, but we are resolute that fairness and decency require it," the e-mail said. "We are not demanding more, we are only seeking to keep what we have worked so hard to achieve."

Ariele Klausner, the academy’s board president, sent a letter to the staff over the weekend outlining the school’s budget constraints and urging the faculty to reconsider its decision.

"We have stretched our finances as far as is fiscally responsible and have offered you as generous an economic package as we could," Klausner wrote. "The economic package we presented is our best and final offer."

She emphasized that the impasse between the faculty and the board "is strictly a financial one and in no way reflects a lack of respect or appreciation for the exceptional quality of our faculty or the outstanding education you provide our students. We recognize your hard work and the devotion you have for the school and the children and value the excellent working relationship we have with you."

Jared Freedman, who is handling the negotiations on behalf of the teachers as a representative of the American Federation of Teachers in Pennsylvania, said the main sticking point was over pension plans. Freedman said the school’s latest contract proposals would have cut pension contributions by a significant amount.

Freedman added that health benefits were not a major point of contention.
 

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