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SCHOOL DISTRICT PREPARING FOR TEACHER TALKS

The Lancaster School District is preparing for negotiations on a new contract with its 393-member teachers union.

The School Board discussed bargaining strategies and goals behind closed doors for three hours Monday night, and has another closed executive session scheduled next Monday night.

"We need to put together the package of items we want to bring to the table, then we'll set up a team of people to serve as negotiators, then we'll establish meeting dates," School Superintendent Joseph L. Girardi said Tuesday.

The teachers' current three-year contract expires in August.

"We understand one of the board's goals is to negotiate a reduction in health care costs," said Cesar M. Marchioli, president of the Lancaster Central Teachers Association. "We're trying to be proactive in our positions so that we came come up with some ways to do that," he said.

The union's five-member negotiating team has been in place since September.

Also expiring in August are contracts with three other employee unions -- the Lancaster Administrative and Supervisory Association, Lancaster Association of Service Personnel, and Lancaster Association of Substitute Teachers. Talks haven't begun with those units yet, either, officials said.

As in other districts, teacher pay is a hot issue in Lancaster, where taxpayers have defeated budgets the past two years.

The last time around, teachers worked for more than a year without a contract. Their previous four-year pact expired in August 1996, but it was October 1997 before the current three-year pact was approved.

Previously, the teachers' union sought 5 percent raises each year for three years, while the district offered 2.5 percent, 2.6 percent and 2.7 percent. A state fact finder recommended 3 percent, 2.4 percent and 2.4 percent.

The pact finally approved brought teachers a 3 percent raise, retroactive to August 1996, followed by 2.8 percent raises in 1997-98 and this year.

Annual base pay ranges from $29,018 for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no graduate credit hours to $65,284 for a teacher at the top of the scale, Marchioli said.

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