Teachers Protest in Sag Harbor

Posted on 02 January 2009

Sag Harbor School District attorney Tom Volz speaks at a special BOE meeting on Dec. 19


Last week, teachers in the Sag Harbor UFSD met outside both the elementary and high schools before school brandishing signs to protest the school board’s move to make public information pertaining to teacher contracts.
“Don’t Dismantle a Decade’s Progress in One Year,” “Keep the Excellence Going” and “Invest in Your Child’s Future,” read some of the signs held by teachers as they greeted parents and honking horns before school Friday morning.
The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) and the board of education have been negotiating teachers’ contracts for nearly 10 months. At the end of June, the two sides went to impasse — a stage that requires a mediator. After one meeting, it was decided by both sides that the mediator was not going to help them reach an agreement. The teachers and the district met again in hopes of bargaining at the table earlier this month, but the two sides could not agree.
They did, however, jointly decide to go to fact-finding, a stage of negotiation that involves bringing in an individual from the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to look at both sides and make a non-binding decision. By January, a fact-finder should be in place and school superintendent Dr. John Gratto said that this is not the first time he has been involved in the process.
“I’ve been through fact finding before and it is a fair process,” he said on Monday, “The fact-finder renders his answer to questions on both sides then both parties need to re-assess based on the recommendations.”
But last Thursday, the teachers were noticeably absent from a special board meeting called by the school board to share with members of the community negotiation information on teachers’ contracts. At that meeting, the district’s attorney, Tom Volz, gave a presentation outlining what the district is asking for and what the teachers want and where the relative discrepancies lay.
TASH president Eileen Kochanasz said sharing information about negotiations with members of the public is “unfavorable.” In recent months, Kochanasz, a Pierson High School guidance counselor, had criticized the board for stating at board meetings that they would not negotiate with the teachers in public, yet, she added, by calling the special meeting “You [the board] just did.”
On Thursday, Volz outlined for the public the salaries of teachers within the district, and how much of an increase they would get this year if given the raises the teachers are requesting.
According to Volz, TASH is proposing a 3.9 percent increase for teachers. That means a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in their second year of teaching would earn $50,115 for the 2008-2009 school year, an increase of $4,178 over last year. For teachers with a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree plus 45 credits, the salary would be $54,575 with the raise as proposed by TASH, giving these teachers a $4,551 or 9.1 percent raise (which includes a built in step increase) over last year.
According to Volz, at the highest step level, a teacher with 27 years in the school district, a master’s degree and an additional 30 credits, earns $113,579 (without the raise proposed by TASH) — the second highest salary for teachers at that level in the area.
Kochanasz said that not long ago, however, the teachers in Sag Harbor received salaries noticeably lower than those of teachers in nearby districts.
“In 2004, we were finally able to reduce the gap for teachers,” Kochanasz said, “Now we could lose what we gained.”
Kochanasz expressed her frustrations with the district, and said superintendent Dr. John Gratto and school board members have been unable to negotiate in a “give and take” fashion. She added that the district has been meeting TASH with proposals already prepared and have not been willing to budge beyond what was on the table.
Some of the other major sticking points in the teachers’ contracts include health insurance in retirement, academic support responsibilities, and coursework approval for teachers looking to enhance their teaching skills. Teachers are also asking to keep advanced payment for vacations, something the district wants to change. The district also would like to change the requirements for personal leave, so that teachers are not permitted to take off a day prior to or directly following a school holiday.
Volz also outlined in his presentation that the district would like teachers to electronically post their homework assignments, grading policies, field trips and major test dates on the school’s website.
The 30 or so attendees of Thursday’s meeting also learned that, according to Volz, teachers are asking to receive 50 percent of their unused sick leave and personal leave in cash upon retirement.
“We have a fabulous school and fabulous test scores to prove it. I don’t know why they [the district] want to create this atmosphere,” said Kochanasz who felt that Thursday’s presentation by the board was in “blatant disregard” and “disrespect” to those who work within the school. She also said the custodians and secretarial contracts have yet to be agreed upon.
Walter Tice has sat on both sides of this argument, first as a teacher in Yonkers for more than 30 years and then as member of Sag Harbor’s school board for seven years. For four of those years, Tice served as school board president and he was involved in the last contract negotiation with TASH.
“It’s unfortunate that they chose to negotiate in public,” said Tice. “The general wisdom is that once you start to bargain in public, your ability is restricted.”
Tice also said that the information presented on Thursday was a “PR story from the board.”
He added that there are some very complicated issues that would be difficult for the community to grasp from just one presentation.
“It simplifies issues from both sides,” he said. “They both have long contract issues and this tends to politicize these issues.”
“And it’s not good for the morale,” Tice added. “These people are actually teaching in your classroom, you don’t want them mad at you. You can solve your differences rationally, not by hanging them out to the public.”
“I think we accurately portrayed the issues of all sides,” said Gratto of last Thursday’s meeting, “I think all that [meeting] has done is informed people.”
“Reasonable people can reach reasonable results,” he added.

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15 Responses to “Teachers Protest in Sag Harbor”

  1. CalebTutwiler says:

    “…the teachers were noticeably absent.”
    The only time teachers show up at any board meeting is when the board is doing something dispicable, i.e. sneaking in a “yes man” to “run” the district under the public’s nose, or when they are getting tenured, or when they have to begrudgingly deliver a powerpoint presenation.

    Something has to give.
    These negotiations have been a joke since day one, when both sides predicted they would be worse than the last go-around. If they both knew that, and they did, then why haven’t they gotten creative instead of letting the process drag out and turn into a stalemate.
    One session with a mediator… and that’s it? Really? Then you go to “fact finding.”

    Here’s the facts:
    1. Our country is in a recession.
    2. Sag Harbor teachers screamed for and received “parity” last time around.
    3. The board is still to blame for not including the teachers in the superintendent search, thus reducing any good-faith, bargaining capital they might have once had.

    Teachers, please acknowledge the fact that you’ve got it pretty good; there are a lot of people in Sag Harbor who don’t have the option to “negotiate” their salaries and who don’t have a built-in raise. Be grateful and let the public know what you’ve “given” in the “give and take” excercise you say the board refuses to be party to. Or is your list of demands exactly the same as it was back in May? Surely the students’ test scores will not suffer if you have to, God forbid, contribute to your retirement.
    And board, if you truly believe you’re running a business, then acknowledge the fact that you’re not the ones working the plant and turning out your “product,” i.e. our country’s future, a.k.a. the students. That would be the teachers. They’re the workers in this scenario.
    And, even in these tough economic times when pressure is sure to mount from retirees who have never had a child in your district but sure do love the view off Long Beach, you must remember the “product” is not the tax rate, but the students.
    And to continue the metaphor… don’t hope for a bailout come budget time if you can’t get creative. And that means more than “shared spending” (“Look at us. We’re buying computer paper in bulk. We’re sooooo creative.) or purchasing a 12-seater van to appease a parent who’s angry because their child is five-minutes late to Stella Maris every morning. I have a feeling the voters in Sag Harbor will be a little stingier with their money than our federal government.

  2. Proud Mom says:

    Why on earth are sag harbor teachers allowed to behave with gang like tactics.Wearing all black to school!!Threatning”Don’t Dismantle a Decade’s Progress in One Year”??? idont get that one.Thats THUG thats GANG thats UNION!!!PRINT THEIR SALARIES IN THE PAPER “FOIL!FOIL!” The teachers do not make that school its the students and the community Mrs kuchonnazz should know that.Im surprised I thougt students were not allowed to dress thug like,but teachers by dressing all black you bring your union into the classroom.Wrong..A great community member once told me STOP USING THE CHILDREN(during the addition days)hes right the teachers(mostly elementary)use the students and their PARENTS to fight the Money fight all the time every year!!(But you do not want the community to know the specifics)protesting in front of the school before school,Lets be honest,is a circus enviorment,before classes start,good for the entire school or just the teachers.And last,hiring Dr.Gratto without input from teachers was the Best way to start righting all those Holden Shnieder wrongs.KEEP UP THE GOOD FIGHT SAG HARBOR COMMUNITY AND TAXPAYERS.BOE REPRESENT THE TAXPAYER(NOT TEACHERS MR.TICE) p.s.if test scores decline because the teachers do not get what they want…..FIRE THEM!!!!

  3. Fed Up With It says:

    The real time state of our economy should be reflected in the salaries and benefits of our teachers. Yes, they work very hard – - but so do I. And I work all 12 months of the year. My earnings are down 50% today from a year ago. I know it would be almost impossible to take back anything from any union people, but to grant ANY increases when the town and residents are living with less isn’t justifiable. Most of us in the Harbor struggle just to put food on the table and pay the mortgage.

    To our wonderful teachers I say “Stop whining and be glad that you have a job and benefits that don’t fluctuate with the East End economics. It’s not that you’re any smarter than others – you just selected a profession years ago that no one thought would turn into the lucrative income machine it is today”.
    Consider yourself lucky; yet I’m sure your response will be that “you feel that you deserve everything you can get”. How self serving that line of thinking is!

  4. Barbara Wolfram says:

    NOBODY should be receiving an increase in salary at this time. There are people in our town who aren’t getting enough to eat — who can’t afford needed surgeries because they no longer HAVE a job and don’t have ANY health insurance.

  5. Kristin Ferrante says:

    The Sag Harbor School District teachers should not be getting an increase in their salaries now.
    The district should look into how unorganized the programs are in the district. There is terrible waste of money internally. Teachers in the “inner circle” get whatever they want. Money is no object. Also, the district gives tenure to incompetent teachers. They support these incompetent teachers who should be let go. Now that they have tenure, there is nothing that can be done about it. Two of them are in the music department. Now TASH wants to give them more money? How ridiculous? The district protects these people too! What’s going on?

  6. Pia says:

    “Dear” Proud Mom,
    Thank you for your wisdom. I see that you speak and write from your own experience when you try to say,(and I quote directly)”The teachers do not make that school its the students and the community Mrs kuchonnazz should know thatIm surprised I thougt students…”
    It is evident that this is how it was in your day.Were you educated by your community? Were there ANY teachers on staff? HMMM…
    I sense a bit of hostility in your rambling tirade, er…letter? Perhaps your careless attitude when writing to an editorial column has carried over into careless thinking?
    Perhaps you have a difficult time respecting professionals who spent many years in college studying, not to mention many years afterward paying for it, as well as many years perfecting their skills…I can understand that it takes EFFORT to look up the spelling of the name Kochanasz. (I just looked it up and it took all of one minute.)It also takes time to use a dictionary and another few minutes to reread what one has written before pouncing on the “submit comment” key. But let’s be fair and reasonable, THUG was spelled correctly more than once, (although it was used out of context- the wearing of somber clothing is for solidarity not a gang-related activity). Then again, maybe, the way they dress doesn’t REALLY matter because, as you say, teachers don’t make the school anyway…Thank goodness they didn’t wear their trousers by their knees, heavy gold chains and their caps backward!
    I suspect that TEACHERS are an easy SCAPEGOAT in this economic climate…
    Especially since their salaries are public.I think everyone’s salary should be public, don’t you? I also had a thought that perhaps we should make public EVERY household’s earnings… Then we could ALL be disgruntled! Or feel superior, of course…Can you share YOUR salary with the class?

    POP QUIZ: What are the salaries of the following: The President of the USA,
    your local politicians, insurance companies executives , police officers, your local grocery store owner, your postman, the garbage collector, lawn service owners,babysitters, housecleaners, contractors, servicemen and service women of different ranks, the superintendent of Sag Harbor Schools, his predecessor Ms. Holden? ( don’t forget to question the difference in $$$$).

    When I see your “name” “proud mom”, I’m sure that you didn’t MEAN to USE your children to give yourself credibility status. Right? The beachfront retirees who attend school board meetings regularly-are they USING the children? I’m sure that children are not THEIR main concern…(Those THUGS!)
    You wrote and I quote,
    “hes right the teachers(mostly elementary) use the students and their PARENTS to fight the Money fight all the time every year!!”
    I have to inform you that contracts are negotiated every FOUR years…not EVERY year.
    The abundance of errors, plethora of misinformation and apparent carelessness leads me to conclude that your thinking is seriously flawed,and you have not yet learned on a personal level that good education and excellent teachers is the key to a better society and a better life for everyone.

  7. ExpressFan says:

    Dear Editors, One comment by Kristen Ferrante- January 5th,2009 was clearly intended to be defamatory and I must bring this to your attention as it is clearly stated that this is not acceptable on this website. The posted comment was written from the perspective of an “insider” who is (or was) “supposedly” familiar with the “inner workings” of the school district.By providing thinly disguised clues this individual( Ferrante) seems to be targeting specific individuals perhaps for personal reasons?

  8. Proud Mom says:

    pia…. clearly i’ve ruffled your feathers….Good,get over yourself…comparing private sector jobs to public jobs paid for by taxpayers..wanting to know every households income are you just plain crazy..or are you——–oh and every year there is a budget vote I have no more time to waste on you!!!!!!!!!

  9. Pia says:

    Proud Mom,

    As usual, you didn’t bother to READ the list which included jobs which are funded by the public.Do a little research… Sorry you missed the sarcasm regarding the job and salary issue…
    In addition, the teachers are not fighting the “money fight” for THEIR salaries during the budget vote. Context problem again…
    Yes,IGNORANCE REALLY ruffles my feathers and I have a stake in illuminating obviously skewed information when it is so blatant.
    I am glad to see that you have evidently taken a cue from me … your writing was less careless, and I will take a cue from you when you said you said,”I have no more time to waste on you…” I am right there with you…

  10. Drex88 says:

    Its really nobody’s business what a teacher makes. If the taxpayers don’t want to pay then don’t pay. The teacher’s deserve any pay raise they can get.

  11. Noyack says:

    The board is not going to give the store away, and they shouldn’t. They have a responsibility to the taxpayers. In these times be thankful for what you have. There are 1,000′s waiting in line to fill your shoes

  12. Anonimo says:

    Get to work and stop complaining…

  13. Mrs. Sea says:

    ….all this talk against the teachers’ wanting to settle their contract disputes, and yet Dr. Grotto walks away with a hefty raise!!!!

  14. Perfect post! I completely consent along with you.

  15. Teacher says:

    Pia: Thank you very much for your comment. I can not stand ignorance either. Well, here it goes! I am a young teacher and after paying my endless bills and student loans, I only have $100 left to feed myself. I do not have cable or any other “luxuries.” I can not remember the last time I went shopping. I cut my own hair and air dry my clothes to save on electricity. I sometimes wish people would stop and think of what teaching entails. There is a huge problem with teacher retention for a reason. I do not even make 30000 a year and drive 45 minutes to get to work. I love my children and that is the only reason I stay. I made more money bartending while in college. If some teachers want to try and step up their pay, let them do it and get over it. We are the ones who are not guaranteed a contract and can be fired for any reason. I teach 3rd grade and sometimes my kids want to give you a hug, but you are afraid of lawsuits. You never know anymore. We are losing experienced teachers left and right but, the victims are the children in the end. The children of “Proud Mom” and others for example, won’t have the ability or their given right to receive the best education available. But then again, maybe we should just not pay teachers; then we can breed more ignorance…yeah….great idea.

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