TheÂ Â Teachers Association of Sag Harbor may have traded inÂ black shirts for more subtle buttons,but the message is still the same: they want a new contract. Â
Members of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) are in the middle of negotiating their contracts with the Sag Harbor school district’s board of education and superintendent. The negotiating began in February of this year and many of the district’s teachers are wearing buttons on their shirts to stress the fact that they have yet to come to an agreement on certain pieces of the contract. The bargaining began between TASH and the board of education along with the former superintendent, Kathryn Holden. When they could not come to agreements on certain issues, they declared impasse.
Â “Since TASH declared impasse in June we had a mediator come in.” superintendent Dr. John Gratto said on Monday. “She came in two days in August but we haven’t scheduled another session with her at this point.”
The mediator, Karen Kenney, was chosen by the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) to work with the board of education, the superintendent, the school’s attorney, Tom Volz, and the Labor Relations Specalist who works for New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), Rich D’Esposito.
On June 30, the previous contract, which was developed in 2004, expired, although is in effect until a new contract is developed. The teacher’s contract covers sick leave, vacation time, health insurance, benefits and salary among other items.
“Negotiations will continue,” Gratto said, “The board is working hard to propose terms of the contract that are fair to employees and the taxpayers.”
The Teachers Association’s Team, which consists of Eileen Kochanasz, math teacher Jim Kinnier, home economics teacher Donna Mannino, and third grade teacher Maria Semkus, were hoping for a new contract before the previous one expired.
According to Kochanasz, TASH president, TASH is made up of 119 teachers, substitutes and support service teachers.
In a recent Newsday poll, Kochanasz points out that the English test scores for Sag Harbor’s eighth grade are second out of 137 schools on Long Island. She said what the teachers are asking for is not a lot for a school with such a high rating.
“Why are we arguing over this?” she said, “We have a great school, let it be — it’s beautiful.”
Kochanasz said she is unsure when the next meeting on contract negotiations will take place because nothing is scheduled right now.
“From what I understand from Dr. Gratto is that the district attorney has compared current salaries from surrounding districts and presented them last week at the executive session on September 23,” Kochanasz said on Wednesday. “But they [the board] decided that their attorney did not get enough data for the next four years.”
Teahcer contracts are for four years, and Kochanasz explained that the school board has asked their attorney, Tom Volz, to get more information but she believes he would not be able to present this information before the middle of October.
“I don’t understand why the board had four years to consider the issues for this new contract and they are just starting to collect the data now,” Kochanasz said.
Gratto said that the contract negotiations are not something that can be rushed.
“This is simply a process that takes time,” Gratto said, “There are terms of the contract that the board is trying to take a ballot on.”
But Kochanasz says that even after the contract is agreed upon, TASH members still have to pick a date for a ratification vote. She explained that even if TASH meets by October 31, the group might not be able enact the new contract until the middle of November.
“This is just showing the disregard,” Kochanasz said, “We are what makes this school.”
But Gratto says that progress is being mae and notes that he and the board are also currently working on the custodial and secretarial union contracts.
“We are looking at three negotiations simultaneously,” Gratto said. “Both sides look at the issues differently and it takes time to get to an agreement. It’s a meeting of the minds.”
Gratto also said on Monday that it is incumbent upon the teachers and the board of education to reach a fair agreement.
“Wearing buttons won’t hurt or injure that process,” he said.
Barbara Cohen, representative for the secretarial union, said on Monday that contracts are still being discussed.
“We are not even sharing this information with our secretaries at this point,” Cohen said, but added, “We are making slow steady progress.”
Representative for the custodial department, Matt McAree, said his group is moving ahead at a steady pace.
“We have made a lot of progress on our contracts and hopefully they will be finalized soon,” McAree said on Monday. “Two more weeks and we should know. But even after we negotiate and it goes to the board, it will take a few weeks to go into effect after that.”