Strike Looming in Old Forge

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OLD FORGE -- Emotions boiled over a the Old Forge school board meeting, just hours before the district's teachers were set to hit the picket line.

It's been two years since the teachers union had a new contract with the district, and the frustration was evident for all to see.

The school board said the district is in a crisis situation.

Officials said funding from the state has been slashed by $450,000 a year.

Meanwhile pension and health care costs continue to go up alarmingly, and the district said even with tax increases the last two years, it's losing money.

Negotiators for Old Forge accuse the teachers of being unreasonable.

"It's a little harsh to hold the children hostage in exchange for saying 'we want to only pay $2.50 for our prescriptions,' that's all they pay. We will be paying on the other hand a cool million dollars for those health benefits. We have repeatedly told them we can no longer do that," said John Audi, the school district labor attorney.

"The average salary of a teacher in the Old Forge School District is $47,891. If you go to the paper and their statistics that results in the lowest-paid teachers in 20 school districts," said Shawn Nee, a teacher.

Parents find themselves caught in the middle.

"Shame on the school board, shame on the teachers," said parent Karen Walker.

With the strike set to begin tomorrow, the school board is allowed, by law, to implement its last best contract offer for the teachers, giving them raises of nearly 3 percent a year over the next several years.

Either way, teachers said they will be walking the picket lines Thursday morning.

There is no word on when, or if, the two sides will sit down for a bargaining session.