More than two dozen teachers filled the Pierson High School library at Monday night’s Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting. They were there to prove to the board they are serious about getting new contracts.
The teachers, wearing black shirts and buttons reading, “Wanted Teacher Contracts,” sat through a presentation by state assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and talks on service learning before voicing concerns about the way contract negotiations are going — or rather, not.
Earlier this year, the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) declared an impasse in negotiations. They asked for a mediator to help the board, school superintendent and TASH come to agreement about specific pieces of the contract – including salaries.
“There is no sense of urgency on your part to settle a contract almost four months after the last contract expired,” said TASH president Eileen Kochanasz on Monday night. “For us that’s just not right.”
Kochanasz, a guidance counselor at the high school, explained that at the last board meeting on September 23, the school board asked its attorney, Tom Volz, to collect further data about salaries in other districts in the area. She questioned why no meeting date had since been set to further discussions. The board maintains that Volz has yet to submit the needed data.
Kochanasz added that this is the second consecutive time that contract negotiations have failed to be completed in a timely manner.
“Is this efficient bargaining of a school?” she asked. “Am I to infer that your staff is not important to you?”
“The representative for the teachers association as well as three of the other bargaining units were unavailable from February to April,” countered board member Ed Hayes. “So no negotiations took place during that period and that is not our fault.”
“I disagree,” Kochanasz said, “We had six meetings between February and May.” She maintained that there were extensive meetings before impasse was called and added that the board had four years to collect the necessary data.
“We have asked for more information and it’s an ongoing process,” said board member Theresa Samot, who was sitting in for board president Walter Wilcoxen, who was absent. “We do appreciate the work that you do.”
TASH member Jim Kinnier noted that though bargaining began in February, the team had been ready to sit down at the table since last October.
“We will be willing to meet once a week starting this week,” Kinnier added on Monday.
But the board was not yet ready to commit to a start date for further talks.
“I talked to Tom Volz today. I can’t give you a definite date,” said superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “I could have an answer tomorrow. I expect [the next meeting] will be late October or early November.”
As of yesterday morning, Wednesday, Gratto said that Volz had not yet been able to get back to him.
“Once he finishes the analysis, we should hear back from him,” said Gratto.
Gratto also announced at the meeting that the district would put a freeze of $100,000 on some supplies, professional development and conferences for certain departments.
Gratto explained that with the economy struggling and the rising cost of oil that wasn’t budgeted for last year, the school needed to reduce costs in other areas.
“We need to cut back on these things rather than scramble for money mid-year,” said Gratto, who maintains that the cuts would not affect the students.
But Chris Tice, president of the PTA, did not agree.
“I would caution that everything you mentioned does impact the kids,” said Tice who noted that cuts in the realm of staff development ultimately do affect students.
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. was at Monday night’s meeting to receive a formal thank you for a $5,000 grant he helped secure for new technology at the school.
Thiele also took the opportunity to talk to parents, teachers and administrators about proposed tax relief legislation that would offer a tax cap of four percent on property tax increase.