To begin with, the School Committee would like to emphasize again how much appreciation we have for our hardworking classroom teachers. We know how much they contribute to the excellent education our children receive and we acknowledge them as the backbone of our school system. We also know how much they care. Unfortunately, present financial circumstances do not allow us to exemplify that appreciation with the monetary rewards being requested by the teachers’ union.
We are grateful that the teachers union has elected to stop the ‘work to rule’ action which has been confusing to the children and disheartening to the community. We had been told by parents that some teachers were refusing to provide previously available after school help as part of the “work to rule” action. It is our understanding that this might be a prohibited ‘work stoppage’ (although that was, no doubt, not intended by any individual teacher) and we are glad that the teachers have decided to end this practice.
At the mediation session held last Wednesday three proposals were presented, one by the teachers union and two by the School Committee. We spent all day yesterday comparing the costs of each proposal and determined that, for the two years of the contract, the last proposal by the teachers is approximately $60,000 more costly than the last proposal of the School Committee. While this amount appears small it balloons to a $575,000 additional cost in 2014 because it ultimately awards two full step increases to the teachers, the cost of which is compounded in every year thereafter. The teachers’ proposal is simply a delay of payment which will result in two years of step increases by the end of year two. This means that once the steps are awarded in year two the cost to the Town in the following year and years thereafter becomes unsustainable.
As far as the teachers Unfair Labor Practices case goes, this matter will not be decided until early 2013. The decision we are waiting for right now, which should be received in April, is simply a determination of whether or not there is a factual dispute on a legal issue requiring the matter to be sent forward to a fact finding hearing. It is our understanding that these matters are usually sent forward and the fact that they are does not mean that the party instigating the action will prevail. It would not be right for the School Committee to agree to raises which will require us to cut programs and positions because of the threat of litigation. If we agree to pay the additional steps being requested by the union we will have to fund them by making cuts; if the claim for two steps is ultimately decided against the School Department we will have to fund the judgment by making cuts. The only way we can continue to fully fund programs, services and positions is if we reach a settlement with the teachers which does not require us to spend more than we have.
Finally, the School Committee has done everything in our power to negotiate a fair and equitable contract with the teachers. The step increases in the last contract were negotiated for that contract period which has expired. We are trying to negotiate a new contract based on presently existing circumstances. We will continue to do our best to bargain fairly and equitably with a realistic assessment of the funds available and the financial circumstances facing our community.
-Angela Harkness, School Committee chairwoman.