NATRONA HEIGHTS (KDKA) – Highlands School District teachers are on strike after last-minute talks did not result in a new contract Tuesday night.

Today was the first day of the strike that could last as long as eight days. If no agreement is reached, the parties go into non-binding arbitration.

A total of 191 teachers, counselors, nurses and social workers walked off the job around 7:45 a.m.

In the shadow of Highlands High School, the teachers, counselors, nurses and social workers of the Highlands School District were on the picket lines. They’re on strike because their union and the school district have failed to reach an agreement.

At issue are salaries and health care benefits.

“We’re asking for a raise, certainly we’re willing to negotiate with the district on health care contributions, however our teachers at the top of the salary schedule are in the bottom five in Allegheny County, in terms of their pay,” said Alisa Murray, a union representative for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. She represents the Highland teachers.

“The parties reached a point where there was nowhere else to go, there were long discussions, but at some point you reach a point where you are where you are,” said Ira Weiss, the solicitor for the school district.

The union and the district have been bargaining for 16 months. Tuesday’s bargaining session lasted more than five hours, to no avail. Terry McKrisky has been a teacher in the Highlands District for 36 years.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that it has come to this,” said McKrisky. “I feel bad for the kids, but the kids also need a good teacher, quality teacher and I think we do an excellent job.”

“We just want something that’s fair, I think, I don’t think we want anything exorbitant or outrageous, I just think we want something that’s fair and to have some respect,” said Colleen Katz, a second grade teacher.

The Highlands Education Association has been negotiating contracts for the last 16 months.

For more information from the district for seniors and other special students, visit their website here.

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Lisa Washington