Negotiations Resume, But Slowly

Posted on 06 November 2009

This week the Sag Harbor School District and the teacher’s association returned to contract negotiations after several months of deadlock. The parties met at the bargaining table on Tuesday morning at 9:30 and didn’t leave the building until around 5 p.m. School superintendent Dr. John Gratto and Teacher Association of Sag Harbor President Eileen Kochanasz sadly reported the two parties still haven’t reached a final agreement regarding teachers’ raises, health insurance contributions and supervisory duties, among several other key issues.
When the school board announced they would sit down with TASH once again, it appeared that progress and a resolution was on the horizon. Teacher Nancy Remkus was hopeful. At a board of education meeting on Monday, Remkus said she wished to come to a place where she could shed the grey shirt. Educator Cathy Meyerhoff remained cautious and asked the board to use the negotiations as a “turning point.” But it seems the event on Tuesday left both the board and TASH a bit disappointed.
At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dr. Gratto and school attorney Tom Volz presented TASH with a packaged proposal of the board’s position. Dr. Gratto reported that the board adjusted their bargaining position in several areas, including salaries, health insurance and duty periods. Although Dr. Gratto didn’t elaborate on the specifics of the proposal, he added that the board offered a five-year contract.
“We thought [the proposal] would reasonably satisfy our mutual interests,” noted Dr. Gratto in an interview on Wednesday.
After presenting the new proposal, Dr. Gratto said negotiators with TASH took close to three hours reviewing the offer and returned with a counter proposal. Dr. Gratto claimed TASH’s proposal mirrored the fact finder’s report. He maintained the board still needs to conduct cost estimates on TASH’s recommendations. Although Dr. Gratto wasn’t sure when the board would meet to vet this package, he said the parties are expected back at the bargaining table on December 1.
Kochanasz agreed that there was some movement on part of the board, but felt the style of negotiations had remained the same.
“I wish they had the power to negotiate within the session, instead of having to leave to evaluate proposals. It isn’t give and take negotiations and that troubles me,” stated Kochanasz. “We gave them a counter proposal and they stopped right there.”
In a press statement released on Wednesday, TASH said the picketing will continue and the teachers will still wear their grey shirts. Kochanasz also expressed “disappointment that the district also included some new and ‘onerous’ proposals in their package.”
In the past few weeks, the negotiations have been the topic of conversation in several public forums. Members of the community from all walks of life seem to be weighing in on the previous proposals.
“I think the teachers are living in a bubble. There are people in the community who have lost their jobs or their benefits … I fought for every budget and I’m for this school. [But] you can only go to the taxpayer and ask so much. You need a budget that can get approved by the taxpayer,” noted parent Steve Clarke at the board of education meeting on Monday evening.
Teacher Joann Kelly argued that the negotiations weren’t stuck at a particular amount of money. She added that her own husband faces losing his job.
Of the negotiations, teacher Cathy Meyerhoff asked the board, “Where do you want to be tomorrow, the holiday season or in January?”
“Cathy, that was well said,” noted Dr. Gratto. “And I believe it is equally pertinent to TASH.”

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