PSEA Member Spotlight
Harrisburg Education Association
Rich Askey has worn many hats as a PSEA member – a PSEA board member for 10 years, a Southern Region officer, and a former Harrisburg EA president. And of course there is his job as an elementary music teacher in the Harrisburg School District.
But it seems like there is always room on his plate for more, and his latest endeavor is spearheading the Partners for Public Education effort in the Harrisburg School District.
It has come at a particularly critical time for the district, which is in “financial distress" under Pennsylvania’s new Financial Recovery Law, and is being overseen by a chief recovery officer. More than 300 teachers have been furloughed during the past three years, five school buildings have been closed, full-day kindergarten was reduced to only half-day, and vocational and alternative education programs have been eliminated.
Recently, the Harrisburg EA negotiated the first contract under Act 141, one in which members accepted a 5 percent pay cut, and increased health insurance contributions. There were also freezes in step and salary level movement.
It was in the context of the contract negotiations that a Community Involvement Committee was created. Askey headed the effort to enlist parents and community members to get behind the schools, and to understand the issues facing it.
A PPE representative was appointed for each building in the district.
“One way we got the ball rolling was to set up tables in school lobbies during parent-teacher conference times," Askey said. “We got a great response."
Although Harrisburg EA members overwhelmingly approved the new contract in August, negotiations on a new one will start in January for another contract required a year from now. And the district is still facing a $5 million operating deficit this year.
Askey said the PPE effort in Harrisburg will intensify.
“In light of the 5 percent pay cut, we really want the community to know the sacrifices educators are making, and to also be involved in the challenges facing the district," he said.
This piece is also featured in PSEA Voice: September 2013.