HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Since Harry S. Truman was President, it’s been state law in Pennsylvania that teachers must get 10 paid sick days. The Public School Code of 1949 also specifically spells out allowances for bereavement time and paid sabbaticals.
But Senate Bill 229, introduced by Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair/Cumberland/Franklin), would eliminate those guarantees and let each school district negotiate those items with their individual teachers’ unions.
“It’s to give more flexibility to the schools,” said Steve Robinson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which supports the bill. “Certainly, we believe everybody deserves sick and bereavement. It just needs to be part of a negotiated process and not something mandated from the state.”
The PSBA believes each individual school district knows better than Harrisburg how to compensate their teachers.
“So there could be some give and take on sick versus bereavement versus sabbatical leave,” Robinson said. “That could all be part of a package that would help a district manage its costs and personnel better.”
While supporters use the term “give and take”, unions only see the word take — as in take away benefits.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to muddy the waters with putting something else on the bargaining table that doesn’t belong there. Sick leave is mandated by state law. Let’s move on,” said Dolores McCracken, vice president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state.
McCracken calls Eichelberger’s bill an “attack” on teachers and a thinly disguised effort to roll back benefits. She also says it could force teachers to make difficult decisions.
“Whether or not to stay home because she’s sick, or go to school and possibly transmit her illness on to a student.”
The union also suggests that school boards and lawmakers should be focused on more important issues.
“Let’s go to the bargaining table and talk about things like reducing class sizes, like professional development for our public school employees,” McCracken said. “And let’s have Senator Eichelberger attack a real problem in our Pennsylvania schools, like proper funding.”
Senate Bill 229 narrowly passed out of committee and it’s unclear if or when it will get a full vote in the Senate. Gov. Tom Wolf is opposed to the legislation, according to his spokesman.
If enacted, the law wouldn’t apply until each district’s collective bargaining agreements ended. Current contracts would continue to be honored until their conclusion.