Nearly 70 teachers, parents, administrators and community members packed a math classroom at Pierson High School last Thursday night to listen to teachers tell their side of what has been happening with teacher contract negotiations. The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) gave a presentation to supply some history and contradict the presentation given by the district’s attorney last month.
TASH and the district have been in contract negotiations for several months. Last June, when the current teacher’s contract expired, the two sides declared impasse — which called for a mediator to come in. In August that mediator met with the district, TASH and their attorneys to try to reach consensus on salary, healthcare in retirement and course approval among other issues. The mediation failed. At their last meeting, the two sides agreed to go to fact finding, where a representative from the Public Employee Relations Board (P.E.R.B.) will hear both sides and make a recommendation based on the findings. As of yesterday (Wednesday) school superintendent Dr. John Gratto said he has not yet heard from P.E.R.B. on the scheduling of the fact finder.
Eileen Kochanasz, guidance counselor and president of TASH began on Thursday by explaining that in her 34 years of teaching in the district, she has never been in this position before.
“The superintendent and the board of education believed that a press release issued by the teachers, which is a very common action during difficult negotiations, warranted an immediate exposure of the specific details of the proposals to the public,” she said.
Math teacher Jim Kinnier took the stand to discuss the issues that deal with salary. Kinnier said the district’s presentation talked about increases in salary that are given when a teacher pursues post graduate courses.
“What the district’s presentation didn’t state was that the teachers pay approximately the same amount or more to take those courses,” noted Kinnier who also compared the district’s salaries to those in surrounding districts.
He indicated that in Amagansett, teachers will receive a 3.5 percent increase for 2008-09 and a 3.75 percent increase for 2009-10. East Hampton and Southampton will be getting a 3.5 percent increase for 2008-09 and 2009-10 as well.
Kinnier explained that in February of last year, TASH offered a 4.5 percent increase, which he said was done so the teachers could negotiate down to a figure somewhere in the middle.
Kinnier then explained that on November 6, TASH offered a 3.9 percent increase and in December the district came back with a 2.5 percent increase.
During the presentation, Kinnier also compared teacher’s salaries with surrounding districts. He said, Sag Harbor offers $46,000 for a teacher at the first “step” if they are hired with a bachelor’s degree. According to his data, Sag Harbor pays those teachers lower than Mattituck and East Hampton and higher than Southampton. For teachers with a master’s degree with an additional 30 credits at “step” 15, Sag Harbor pays a bit less than $90,000, falling behind Southampton’s $95,000 and East Hampton, which is just above $95,000. According to Kinnier, Sag Harbor’s salary for that level is higher than Mattituck and Southold.
Social Studies teacher Jim Sloane spoke about health insurance. The district said during their presentation that they want to require all teachers after 2010 to contribute 15 percent to their health insurance in retirement.
Sloane said that teachers in Sag Harbor have paid more toward their health insurance for a longer period of time than the vast majority of Eastern and Suffolk BOCES school districts. The teachers want to maintain the current model, which is that only teachers hired after July 1, 2000 will pay 15 percent toward their health insurance in retirement.
“Currently more than 50 percent of the teachers in the district will contribute to their health insurance in retirement,” Sloane said.
At Monday’s board of education meeting, president Walter Wilcoxen read aloud a statement from the board in response to the TASH presentation.
“We will share TASH’s presentation with our attorney and ask him to compare our presentation and TASH’s presentation for the purpose of clarifying any misunderstandings we may have presented and to highlight any information TASH presented that we believe to be inaccurate,” Wilcoxen said.
He also said that the board takes “a long term view of the financial viability of the district…and the board of education is trying to alter the dynamic burden on taxpayers due to ever increasing health insurance and retirement contributions.”
“We will all have to work together in the future to address the challenges created by the economic tsunami that has befallen us,” Wilcoxen said on Monday.
Wilcoxen acknowledged the teachers and credited them as being a major contributor to the quality of education in Sag Harbor, but added that the students, taxpayers and the board are all “crucial to the current and future success of the district.”
At Monday’s meeting, former Sag Harbor school board president Walter Tice asked school board members if they had given TASH a reason why the board had decided to go public with information related to negotiations.
“We had negotiated to a stalemate,” Wilcoxen responded. “I think the public has a right to know, this was not an attempt to negotiate in public. For me it was a fair position.”
Wilcoxen further argued that there is nothing in law that states that the board of education could not go public. He added that the district’s presentation, “didn’t belittle anyone.”
“Almost every time this [going public] has been done, it has led to bad relations between the parties,” countered Tice. “Now it’s all out there.”
“What I’m suggesting,” added Tice, “is that you take into consideration…getting back into traditional negotiations for the public and for the community of Sag Harbor.”