Temperatures barely went over freezing last Friday, but that did not stop teachers in the Sag Harbor School District from picketing outside the elementary and high schools before classes began that day.
The teachers, many of whom huddled closely together to keep warm, held onto signs that offered messages saying, “Both Sides of the Coin,” and “Get all the Facts,” as well as signs educating passers-by that there would be a public forum to take place tonight, Thursday, January 15 at Pierson/Middle High School. That meeting was rescheduled, due to snow, to Thursday, January 22, at 7:30 p.m.
In response to the board of education’s move to make all matters pertaining to teacher contracts public, the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) has planned tonight’s presentation to offer an alternative view to the issues that have been said to be stalling the contract negotiations.
TASH has been in contract negotiations with the district since the end of the 2007-2008 school year and is currently working under the last contract agreements, which are from 2004.
For the past few months, TASH and their representatives, board of education members as well as the superintendent and the district’s lawyer have been meeting to try to come to an agreement on salaries, health insurance in retirement and course approval, among other issues.
At their last meeting, both sides agreed to go to fact finding, a stage that requires an outside representative to look at both sides, and make a non-binding decision. Directly after the decision to proceed to the fact finding stage was made, the district held a public meeting to present a variety of the outstanding issues pertaining to teacher contracts.
Tonight, however, at 7 p.m. the teachers will offer the public their side of the negotiation story.
“Our plan is to give a historical perspective on how some of the things in our contract have been developed over time in negotiations,” TASH president and high school guidance counselor Eileen Kochanasz said on Tuesday.
She noted that her biggest problem with the presentation the district gave to the public is that they did not offer any background about what the teachers are asking for and only showed the views from one side.
“The board of education left out the history,” she said. “Without that, this would be difficult to understand.”
At tonight’s meeting, Kochanasz explained that the teachers will be providing information on salary history, academic support and duty assignments as well as history on health insurance. Although Kochanasz did not attend the meeting the district held, she said she has looked over the information they provided to the public that night and has prepared some counter arguments.
Kochanasz also said she has some comparative data from districts across Long Island, “and these were settled in October and November,” she added, when the economy began to turn.
She also said that during their presentation, the district talked about advanced vacation pay.
“I have a problem with it being referred to as that,” Kochanasz said. “Vacation pay doesn’t exist for starters.”
Another problem Kochanasz says she has with the district’s arguments is about course approval. The district is asking that all teachers get final approval from the superintendent for courses they take to further their knowledge. Kochanasz suggests that teachers will most likely not be approved for courses unrelated to their current field of study, and that, she said, can be problematic.
“If a social studies teacher wanted to take a class on W.W.I,” Kochanasz explains, “that would be allowed. But if that teacher had a student with Asperger’s syndrome, a course on that would be prohibited.”
Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said in defense that the district decided to “inform, not influence.”
Further Gratto said, “I’m hopeful people treat issues as issues, and not malign the teachers or the board. They are all legitimate issues and I’m hopeful people will remain civil.”