As the 2010-11 school year begins in the Philadelphia area Monday with students in some schools starting classes, more than a third of the districts on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware remain without teacher contracts.

Even so, no strikes are likely in the area at the start of the school year, according to officials of the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania.

The number of school strikes in Pennsylvania has dropped sharply in recent years, largely because of the economy. There were 14 in the 2005-06 school year; 18 in 2006-07; seven in 2007-08; eight in 2008-09; and eight in 2009-10, including one in North Penn.

In South Jersey, contracts remain unresolved in 28 districts in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties. In seven of those, tentative agreements have been reached but not ratified.

And the situations in seven districts are carryovers from the 2009-10 school year. There are 104 school districts in the three counties.

New Jersey teachers are barred by law from striking. If an agreement cannot be reached, the two sides enter a mandatory fact-finding process in which nonbinding recommendations are made by the fact-finder. The process can go on for months.

In 20 districts in Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties where teacher contracts expired this summer or will at the start of the school year, there are no settlements. There are tentative agreements in four - Coatesville, Owen J. Roberts, Upper Darby, and Wallingford-Swarthmore - but they have not yet been ratified.

In Hatboro-Horsham and Methacton, labor agreements that expired in 2009 are still unresolved, and in Neshaminy, the contract expired in 2008 and has not yet been replaced. There are 63 districts in Philadelphia's Pennsylvania suburbs.

In some districts - including Pennsbury, Pennridge, and Unionville-Chadds Ford - discussions are particularly difficult, PSEA spokesman Robert Broderick said.

Wages, medical-premium payments, and the length of the school day and year are the main issues in most districts, he said.

The 512-member Pennridge Education Association voted Wednesday to authorize its leadership to call a strike if necessary. The two sides are said to be far apart.

The school board in the Perkasie area is calling for a wage freeze in the first year of a new contract and a cap at 2009-10 contribution levels for medical premiums, with teachers paying for any increase beyond that. The union is asking for a 3.94 percent raise in the first year and the same percentage contribution as last year - 10 percent - to medical premiums.

Under the school board's proposal, "teachers would be losing hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars out of pocket for years to come," union president Jamie Vinci said in a statement.

District Superintendent Robert Kish said in a statement: "The school board has made what it believes is a fair and equitable contract offer, one that recognizes the importance of great teachers while also protecting the interests of taxpayers in these difficult economic times." He added in an interview: "We have to be patient and tolerant."

In the Unionville-Chadds Ford and Pennsbury districts, the school boards have majorities with a core of members elected in 2009 after pledging to be vigilant fiscal watchdogs.

The Pennsbury board in Lower Bucks is asking for a contract that would lead to no additional financial cost for taxpayers; it includes a proposal for no salary increases or seniority-related increases in the first year.

The union is asking for a 2.9 percent increase in the first year, plus seniority-related increases.

Neither side in the Unionville-Chadds Ford negotiations is talking publicly about its demands.

Contact staff writer Dan Hardy
at 610-313-8134 or dhardy@phillynews.com.