- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

MIDLAND, Pa. (AP) - Teachers at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, the largest of its kind in the state, have voted to unionize.

The teachers voted 71-34 to form a bargaining unit. The National Labor Relations Board must still certify the vote, which was taken from March 25 and April 7, before the Pennsylvania State Education Association can begin bargaining on behalf of the teachers.

The school, also known as PA Cyber, is based in Midland, Beaver County. The public K-12 school has 115 teachers and draws more than 11,000 students from districts across the state.

The school’s founder and former CEO was indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh in August. Nicholas Trombetta is still awaiting trial on charges he siphoned more than $8 million from the school through a network of companies, then schemed with his accountant to avoid income taxes.

The scandal has caused lawmakers to scrutinize charter schools and complaints from public school districts that don’t like having to pay for students who opt to enroll in the online school.

The union and its teachers contend they’re underpaid by Beaver County standards. School officials say the teachers’ salaries fall in the middle of the pack for the county and that the pay should be compared more broadly because many teachers live outside the county and, in some cases, other states.

“We’re paid far less than people at a bricks-and-mortar school,” said Tom Strauman, of Pittsburgh, who teaches second graders through the cyber school.

PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever said the vote was “very significant” because the teachers are now the only unionized group of cyber instructors in the state.

“We respect their decision and we’re going to bargain in good faith,” said Michael Conti, PA Cyber’s chief executive officer.

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