PLA and PSSA "Agreement for high school project sparks opposition in Penn Hills"

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PLA and PSSA "Agreement for high school project sparks opposition in Penn Hills"

Post  HopefulInPh on Thu Sep 09, 2010 10:52 am

Agreement for high school project sparks opposition in Penn Hills

Thursday, September 09, 2010
By Tina Calabro

At its meeting Tuesday, the Penn Hills school board worked toward obtaining the state's approval for construction plans for a new high school.

The plans include a controversial project labor agreement, or PLA, that opponents say favors union contractors and reduces competition.

The project labor agreement with the Pittsburgh Regional Building and Construction Trades Council, approved by the board last week, requires all contractors to agree to standardized work practices, hours, holidays and other requirements. Strikes and other work stoppages are prohibited.

School officials said a study by the independent consulting firm Keystone Research Center suggested that the school district would benefit from such an agreement.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Pennsylvania, a trade group that describes itself as promoting open market practices, issued a news release last week criticizing the school board for signing the agreement and warning that it may be vulnerable to litigation. The trade group has challenged similar agreements in the Shaler Area School District and at Community College of Allegheny County.

Supporters of the agreement have said it ensures that work is completed on time by highly trained workers.

School board member Don Kuhn said the PLA will not add cost to the project, as has been speculated.

"The prevailing rate would be the same as the union rate with a few more cents for taxes," he said."

Additionally, he said, the agreement gives workers who live in and near Penn Hills the chance to work, rather than "[workers] from other states who come in and leave and return to their home states, increasing their economy with our funds."

Board member Bob Hudak asked for and received clarification that the agreement permits up to 10 percent of workers to be nonunion.

School board member Margie Krogh, who voted against the project labor agreement, said, "Do I want local people to have jobs? Yes. My concern is that the expertise needs to be top-notch."

The board heard a report on the district's performance on the 2009-10 PSSA tests, which had higher proficiency requirements than in previous years.

Although all schools in the district showed growth, the district as a whole did not achieve Adequate Yearly Progress and it has returned to the "warning" category. The district as a whole met the target for math, but not for reading.

The high school met 20 of 21 targets for AYP and met the math benchmark for the first time since testing began in 2 002. The school remains in the Corrective Action II category for the fourth year. The high school's 87.77 percent graduation rate exceeds the state's benchmark.

High school scores showed a significant gap between the performance of black and white students. White, non-Hispanic students scored 12 percent to 16 percent above the state's performance goals for math and reading. Black, non-Hispanic students fell below the performance of white students by about 30 percent.

William McClarnon, director for secondary education, said intensive focus on math instruction last year is evident in improved scores. The introduction of the Read 180 program in the current school year for grades seven to 11 should produce better results in next year's testing, he said.

Linton Middle School exceeded state benchmarks for math and reading. The state considers the school to be making progress while remaining in the Corrective Action II category. White students performed about 20 percent better than black students in math and reading.

Two of the district's four elementary schools, Dible and Forbes, met AYP. All four schools exceeded the benchmarks for math. Overall, reading scores for each school were short of the target.

Co-teaching and intensive reading instruction are expected to improve elementary students' performance on next year's tests, said Renel Williams, director of elementary education.

In other news, the school board accepted a five-year contract with the district's school support professionals. Secretaries, instructional aides and other support staff had been without a contract since July 2009.

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