Tag Archive | "negotiations"

Guidance Position Safe Once Again

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Once again, parents with children in the Sag Harbor School District came out in droves to support middle school guidance counselor Carl Brandl at a board of education meeting on Monday evening, December 7. In recent weeks, rumors have circulated in the community that Brandl’s position could be potentially cut and that a guidance counselor position had opened up on Shelter Island. At the meeting, the board reassured the public that Brandl’s position was safe for this school year. During a meeting in the days after the board meeting, Dr. Gratto said he was “95 percent” certain the job would also be kept for the 2010-2011 school year as well. When asked if the district would replace Brandl if he decided to step down this year, Dr. Gratto answered, “I expect so.”

“Part of my job and the board’s job is to help understand the concerns of the community,” school board president Walter Wilcoxen told the audience gathered at the school board meeting.

In early November, the district anticipated a revenue shortfall of around $148,000 in the coming new year due to decreases in state aid and cutting Brandl’s position was one idea vetted amongst administrators to handle the loss. Dozens of parents attended a board meeting in November to express their support of Brandl and told the board his position was invaluable for young teenagers who are facing the challenges of early adolescence. At this previous board meeting, the board maintained Brandl’s position was secure and Dr. Gratto outlined a four-part plan to maintain staff for the 2009-2010 school year. On Monday, board member Ed Haye reiterated that every position is safe for 2009 through June of 2010.

“I think we need to let Carl know that we want him to stay. We might not be able to find someone who is good at this position again,” noted parent Vanessa Leggard.

In the coming budget process, noted board members at Monday’s meeting, the district faces increased costs for 2010-2011. Wilcoxen later stated the district’s contribution into the teacher and employee retirement system is expected to increase, along with health insurance increases of between four to five percent and flat lining of state aid revenues. Dr. Gratto, however, believed these increases might be slightly offset due to transportation savings, mainly from the purchase of a bus and van. He anticipates the district will save in the ballpark of $300,000 to $400,000 from reduced transportation costs for this fiscal year alone.

Starting in January, the school board will host a series of workshops on the 2010-2011 budget, where the board says they hope to craft the budget with public input.

“There are probably going to be some tough decisions, but if we do this together we can achieve our goal,” said Wilcoxen of maintaining educational programming and staff into the new fiscal year. “If people come to the budget meetings … they will see the whole package of what our expenses are and we will be able to have a conversation about what the tax rate might be. Are we going to support a higher tax rate? Are we going to have to cut back? That will be the discussion that we will have in public.”

Negotiations Continue

Dr. Gratto added that contract negotiations between the Teacher’s Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) and the district resumed on Tuesday and Thursday of last week. Last Tuesday morning, on December 1, several board members met with members of TASH for an informational session on the negotiations. The meeting was followed by a formal bargaining session in the afternoon, which continued again on Thursday.

Wilcoxen said one suggestion to come out of the information session was to meet periodically with TASH for a formal dialogue on the negotiations. TASH president Eileen Kochanasz said she respected the decision to set-up these meetings. However, Dr. Gratto stated that although “much progress was made in understanding each other’s position, less progress was made in agreeing to contractual provisions.”

Parents Weigh In on Negotiations

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web TASH

Contract negotiations between the Sag Harbor School District and teachers might be at a standstill, but that doesn’t mean the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) isn’t hitting the pavement to educate the community on their position. From wearing tee-shirts to picketing, TASH is making its concerns known in the district.

But at an informational session held by TASH last Thursday, parents were given the opportunity to ask questions of both TASH members and the school board, as board president Walter Wilcoxen and board member Mary Anne Miller attended the event.

TASH President Eileen Kochanasz kicked off the session with a brief overview of negotiations thus far which started in February of 2008. Since the beginning of the process, Kochanasz contended that the board has employed a rigid style of bargaining.

“The message to TASH was either you take the package we are offering you this evening or we are done for the night,” remarked Kochanasz. She added that it is rare for a Long Island school to be stalled in the negotiation process after using a mediator and a fact finder.

Following Kochanasz, Pierson math teacher Jim Kinnier gave a brief overview of the fact finder’s report and how the fact finder’s recommendations stacked up with the teacher’s proposal and the board’s proposal.

Parent and former Parent Teacher Association President Chris Tice, however, didn’t speak to the particular demands of the other side but was aggrieved by the negotiation process.

“The fact is that this has been going on for more than 20 months. I think this is a bad model and we are asking for a different process,” stated Tice. “Why hasn’t the process been more productive? Why hasn’t there been a forum for the two parties to speak freely with one another?”

Wilcoxen said the board understood her concerns, but felt the style in the past wasn’t fair to the district. Earlier Kochanasz explained that the standard form of bargaining is for representatives from both sides to come to the table knowing on which items they will compromise. However, Wilcoxen maintains the board didn’t favor this method.

“It is like playing cards,” said Wilcoxen during a later interview. “We looked at what our future liabilities are because of the increases in health care and retirement benefits … We looked at the data and came up with our best offer.”

The economic issues associated with the proposals were at the forefront of other parent’s minds. Steve Clarke asked Kinnier if TASH considers the taxpayer’s ability to bear the increases when discussing their proposal. He added that the district has a finite amount of money and these monetary increases could come at the cost of class size and programming. TASH is asking for an annual 3.9 percent salary increase, though they maintained this percentage is up for negotiation, while the board is offering a 2.5 percent increase.

“I look at other districts [like ours] and see that they can do it. We believe our school can make that same kind of commitment,” responded Kinnier, citing the annual teacher salary increases at both East Hampton and Southampton School Districts. “We are only asking for what teachers are getting in other districts.”

According to Kinnier, East Hampton awarded their teachers a 3.75 percent increase for the 2008-2009 school year and 4 percent increase for this year. At Southampton, teachers were given a 3.5 percent annual raise for last year and for 2009-2010.

The teacher’s contracts in East Hampton and Southampton expire in June 2010 and their negotiations are likely to begin in January of next year. As other boards review teacher compensation during the bargaining process, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto believes other districts will begin to rethink their teacher compensation packages in a similar fashion to Sag Harbor.

“Those contracts in neighboring districts were negotiated before the recent fiscal crisis. Going forward settlements [in these districts] will call for smaller increases than in the past … We all know the fiscal climate of the state. We aren’t going to get as much help in state aid. We all know health insurance costs are going up,” stated Dr. Gratto, who wasn’t present at the meeting. “We should pay employees fairly … [but] we are trying to strike a balance.”

David Diskin, a Sag Harbor parent, noted at the meeting that the financial capabilities of the Sag Harbor School District perhaps couldn’t be compared to Southampton or East Hampton. He added that the members on the board were elected for their commitment to education.

The recent history of negotiations has appeared to have already sown the seeds of anger amongst some teachers and the district.

“I started in 1975 and I was proud to work here until now,” teacher Cathy Meyerhoff passionately stated, though she noted that she wasn’t speaking on behalf of TASH. “My heart hurts with what is going on and how the district is treating us. You don’t understand what this is doing to morale.”

Kochanasz noted TASH will most likely host another event in October.

Teachers Protest in Sag Harbor

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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.

Negotiations Over Teachers Gets Tough

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Last week the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) members and their lawyer met with the Sag Harbor UFSD Board of Education and superintendent Dr. John Gratto at what was meant to be a negotiation session, but instead, became yet another failure in the attempt to come to agreement about teacher contracts.
After Wednesday’s talks, TASH president Eileen Kochanasz said that the meeting “went nowhere” and the district’s salary proposal “still lags behind the rate of inflation, even as the rate has slowed during the economic crisis.”
She announced that both parties agreed to go to the next step, which is hiring a fact finder.
“This is the process after mediating,” Kochanasz explained, “their [the district’s] representative will contact the Public Employment Relations Board [PERB] to notify them that we can’t go forward. Their rep and ours will consider jointly requesting a fact finder.”
A fact finder is someone who looks at both sides of the issue and makes non-binding suggestions to further the talks between the two sides.
“We are not surprised,” board of education president Walter Wilcoxen said on Friday, “We believe the real sticking points are the salary increase.”
In response to a press release sent out by TASH last week, Gratto called for a press conference in his office on Monday. At that gathering, Gratto and Wilcoxen jointly explained that salary has been the main issue stalling the new agreement and said the board has called for a special meeting on Thursday to present the district’s information to members of the public.
“I have to tell you I find it curious,” Kochanasz said on Tuesday in response to Thursday’s meeting, “why am I learning this in an email? I’m not sure what our strategy will be, but this time of year people have plans. This quick and sudden meeting leaves people with their heads spinning, it’s a sudden calling of a significant meeting… It’s not a tactic that is used and it’s not popular. I’m stunned,” she said.
At the press conference, Gratto outlined five major areas where the two sides are disagreeing — terms of contract, salary increase, workday issues, health insurance and retirement and coursework approval.
At present, teachers are on a three-year contract term, which the board and superintendent outlined during Monday’s press conference. But according to Kochanasz, the board asked first for a five-year term, then the two sides agreed on a four-year term and now the board is asking for a three-year term — again.
“That is curious,” Kochanasz said.
As for the salary disagreements, Gratto explained that the board and their representatives see the numbers differently than do TASH members. Gratto explained that the 2.5 percent increase in salaries proposed for the agreement excludes the cost of moving on salary step (the level at which a teacher’s pay is determined), which would cost the district an additional 2.77 percent in 2008-2009 school year, 2.57 percent for 2009-2010 and 2.31 percent in 2010-2011. For example, for 2008-2009 Gratto said the increase, when the two figures are added, would be 5.27 percent for the 2008-2009 school year.
“We see it as total new money [coming from] the taxpayers,” Wilcoxen said of the total increase, “TASH generally doesn’t see it that way.”
“There is an automatic increase every year, after that it is a raise – that’s what you are negotiating,” Kochanasz said. “They are counting that increase as part of the raise, and they are spinning it that way.”
Gratto explained that the board would like to keep the salary step increase “as is” as was worked out in the previous contract.
Concerning retirement and Social Security, Gratto explained that in Sag Harbor, teachers hired prior to July 1, 2000 do not contribute toward their health insurance in retirement but those hired after that date contribute 15 percent. The board is now asking for all teachers to contribute 15 percent.
Kochanasz said that the teachers in Sag Harbor were the first in Suffolk and Nassau counties to agree to contribute 10 percent to their health insurance in 1996, then in 2000 the teachers signed a new contract agreeing to the tiered system for anyone hired after 2000.
“This way the new teachers would know that when they took the job so we weren’t pulling the rug out from underneath them,” Kochanasz said and added that as of now, more than half of the teachers are paying 15 percent towards their health insurance in retirement indicating half the teachers were hired after July 1, 2000.
Gratto said that teachers in the surrounding districts, like East Hampton and Southampton, contribute upwards of 35 percent to their health insurance in retirement for family coverage. Gratto said in order to phase in this change, teachers hired before 2000 would have until July 1, 2010 to retire and still get 100 percent of their health insurance in retirement paid for.
During the press conference, Gratto explained that teachers can move ahead in their “salary steps” by taking additional courses, advancing them to higher salaries. Gratto said that the board is suggesting that teachers take courses related to their teaching field.
“The concept is you are getting a better teacher,” Gratto said and added those courses should be closely related to the teacher’s field of study.
Kochanasz said it is “changing times in education,” and that the school may be adding a new program or other offering that a teacher may not be qualified in, but may be able to implement into their curriculum.
“Dr. Gratto wants complete control to say whether or not you take a course,” Kochanasz said and added, “This has never been an issue in prior negotiations.”
When asked what would be the earliest date of the next meeting between TASH the board and their fact finder, Gratto said most likely February.
The Special Board Meeting will be held in the Pierson High School Library Thursday, December 18, at 6 p.m.