Belle Vernon Area teachers returned to the classroom Friday after the education association and district officials reached a tentative agreement on a new contract late Thursday averting a work stoppage.

The Belle Vernon Area Education Association (BVAEA) delivered a strike notice to the district last week to begin March 13 if an agreement was not reached before that date.

Tensions mounted late last month when teachers accused the school board of “gamesmanship” after it canceled a negotiation session that had been scheduled for Feb. 26.

This week, district officials and BVAEA returned to the table on Wednesday evening but negotiation talks were unsuccessful. The two sides then met again Thursday for nearly six hours before reaching a tentative agreement.

“Our teachers were passionate about reaching an agreement with the board, and our negotiations team worked to get it done at the last minute”, said BVAEA President Daneen Watson. “We are very pleased that we could get this hammered out for the benefit of everyone involved,” Watson said.

Terms of the agreement will be disclosed pending finalization of language and related details and after ratification by the school board and BVAEA membership, according to Joe Grata, president of the Belle Vernon Area Board of Education.

“Meanwhile, the school district can move forward with its academics, arts, athletics and activities programs without interruption, pending impacts that may be caused by the coronavirus situation,” Grata said.

According to BVAEA, details of the agreement will remain confidential until both sides vote to ratify the final contract, which is scheduled to take place within the coming weeks.

“I am very happy that the two sides came together for the benefit of the students,” said Belle Vernon Area Superintendent Dr. Michele Dowell.

The approximately 160 teachers employed by the district have been working without a contract since June 30, 2019.

Grata said the board’s goal was to achieve a contract that was fair, practical, reasonable and affordable to stakeholders, including teachers, students, taxpayers and the overall community.

“Personally, I want to thank the administration, legal counsel and state Bureau of Mediation for its time, patience and diligence; fellow board members for staying focused and supportive; and members of the BVAEA executive committee for demonstrating that we are all partners in building a better BVA,” Grata said.

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