Tag Archive | "teacher contracts"

After Heated Two Years, Teacher’s Contracts At Last

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By Claire Walla

“All in favor?”

This question, a common formality at all school board meetings, rarely carries as much weight as it did this past Monday when Sag Harbor School Board members met inside the Pierson High School library to vote on teachers’ contracts.

Making no attempt to mask their relief, all six board members present uttered a resounding “aye”—and the room filled with applause. Board member Ed Drohan was absent from the meeting, and when asked later how he would have voted declined to say.

The decision marks the end of more than two years of heated negotiations, during which the Sag Harbor School District and the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) fought over the financial details of teachers’ contracts, which expired in August 2008.

The primary issues in the negotiations concerned salary hikes and health care costs. Based on the contract details finally passed on Monday, the term of the agreement runs from July 1, 2008 through July 1, 2013.

Teachers will retroactively receive a 2.5 percent salary increase for each of two years through June, 2009. For the current school year, teachers will receive an additional 2.6 percent.

For the 2010-11 school year teachers will receive a 2.65 percent increase, in 2011-12 they will receive a 2.7 percent increase and in the final year of the agreement, 2012-13, they will receive a 2.6 percent raise.

The increases are nearly one percentage point lower than a fact-finder’s report had suggested, and less than the nearly four percent argued for by the teachers union.

These salary increases are in addition to the “step” increases that average about 2.7 percent each year.

However, both parties were content as school board members were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief, having approved all details of the contracts, which had been approved by the teachers union last Thursday, December 4.

“This is probably one of the most difficult things we do because we know a lot of the staff,” school board president Walter Wilcoxen said moments before the vote. “[Negotiations] had gotten very bitter, and I hope it never happens again that way. But, this agreement allows us to turn the page in a positive fashion.”

“It was long and hard for us,” said Eileen Kochanasz, president of TASH. “But my teachers are at peace with the settlement and we’re happy to have this behind us.”

Pierson math teacher Jim Kinnier, who also played an active role advocating for the teachers union over the past months, added: “Nobody got everything, but it’s as balanced and fair as possible.”

Teachers initially came to the bargaining table hoping to receive salary increases of 3.9 percent, commensurate with salary increases in neighboring districts. But the board took a hard-line stance against such pay increases, evoking the tough economic times.

“This agreement is very consistent with what the board had offered all along,” said school superintendent Dr. John Gratto.

He added that the district budgeted for a 2.5 percent salary increase (and a more conservative 2.7 percent increase this year) since contracts expired in 2008. So these funds, which were kept in the school’s general fund, will be paid retroactively to all teachers on December 25 of this year.

The new contracts also allow for alternative health insurance options, a point the board emphasized as a cost-saving measure. In the past the district has been locked into the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP), the price of which continues to rise. So, while teachers are still able to take advantage of state insurance, Dr. Gratto said he will now explore other health insurance options that offer a lower premium. Besides, he added, “[NYSHIP] probably offered more than most teachers needed.”

The ability to pay less might be even more attractive to teachers now that their contribution fees to their insurance plans have increased. Retroactive to July 1, 2010, teachers will pay 17.5 percent of health insurance costs, up from the 15 percent they have paid in the past. Also decreasing will be the amount teachers receive for supervising the cafeteria during lunch periods. By reducing the pay by $8.80, bringing it down to $17.25, Dr. Gratto estimates the district can save about $19,000 a year.

Finally, beginning July 1, teachers will be required to post information online using school e-boards. Such information will include course descriptions, homework assignments, grading policy, grades, project and test dates and attendance records. Coaches as well will be required to post practice times and game schedules.

Though the details of the contracts were not discussed at the school board meeting — the district’s lawyers are currently drafting the final version — both parties seemed poised to celebrate their new agreement, and take this as a learning experience going into the future.

All who spoke on the matter — including Dr. Gratto, Kochanasz, Kinnier and school board members Wilcoxen, Dan Hartnett and Chris Tice — agreed. And during the public comment session, community member Walter Tice elaborated: “Now is the time for both parties to examine their participation in the process which just ended. Do that. Put it in writing and convey it to subsequent boards. If you turn and leave right now with relief and don’t look back, you will make the same mistakes again.

“Give the next board your insight about what went wrong this time,” Tice added.

And for the second time that night, there was applause.

Teachers Say They’re Seeking Middle Ground

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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.”



They Could be Heroes

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One of the reasons people move to the East End is for our excellent school system. Our students have remarkable tests scores, and many of them go on to attend top level public and private institutions. These achievements are due, in no small part, to the amazing teachers in the Sag Harbor School District.

We commend local teachers for their abilities and the amount of effort most of them put into their position, but we believe a different model for calculating pay increases needs to be considered.

Teachers and public employees everywhere have relied on pursuing parity with their peers to justify one aspect of their pay raises. Teachers, as well as other public employees like police, receive annual contractual pay increases and so-called steps based on furthering education. When renegotiating a contract every few years, base salaries are regularly boosted to, arguably, come into line with what peers are making in other districts or municipalities. While we have no problem with our local public employees making a good wage, and receiving pay and benefits comparable to their peers, this pursuit of parity is self-propagating — one settlement continues to drive up the other settlements — and rarely has any relationship to other salaries in the community in which the public employees serve.

It’s not the teachers (or the cops), it’s the system that makes it unfair to the people who have to earn the money to pay the salaries.

In response to an article about teacher contract negotiations posted on our website, one local resident wrote “Yes, they, [the teachers], 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.”

And, unfortunately, that story is repeated throughout small towns across the East End, the state and the country.

A teacher’s base pay in Sag Harbor is $46,000 a year even if they only have a bachelor’s degree. There are some people in this village who have worked 20-plus years and still don’t earn that kind of salary.

Of course many public employees are professionals, and need to be compensated well for their services. We trust our children’s education to some of them, we trust our lives to others. They have devoted years to schooling and training and deserve salaries that are higher than some, not as high as others. Think of store owners, or carpenters, or artists, or bank tellers. People who make up the fabric of the community and who woke up last September to find that their retirement savings had disappeared. And those who still kept jobs found that their wages had been frozen, or their hours at work cut back. We know of very few people who are expecting much of a raise this year. Or next.

We’re not suggesting that teachers salaries be frozen. We’re not suggesting staff  be cut. We’re suggesting that teachers could be heroes if they broke from the cycle of pursuing parity with their peers, and instead looked at the community in which they work and accept an increase similar to that which local workers can expect.


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.

Push for Tuition Students

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President of School Board Walter Wilcoxen and Superintendent Dr. John Gratto

At their last meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education was treated to a demonstration by Pierson High School Jeff Nichols, who showed the students’ achievement levels compared to others on a global scale. At this week’s board of education meeting, superintendent Dr. John Gratto talked about those achievements and proposed that the school look at ways to raise revenue, including a plan to invite more students to the district on a tuition-based status.

“There are good test scores and they are attractive to any parent that may want to send their kids to this school,” Gratto said on Monday. “Could we be a bit entrepreneurial? And are we willing to accept students on a tuition basis?”
Gratto explained that by looking at the master schedule, he predicted the school could accept more students at no additional cost.
“How many kids could we take, without negatively affecting class size?” asked school board member Ed Haye.
Gratto responded there could be up to 35 more students per grade level, on the current schedule. Haye suggested that the district should start off slow, and added that 35 seemed like a lot of additional students in one grade.
School board president, Walter Wilcoxen suggested that for some of the Advanced Placement (AP) courses, adding more students might make those classes more economical to run.
Gratto added that the school might have to make some major decisions next year as to whether the school will offer the AP courses with limited enrollment.
“If we decided as a district to keep the classes vibrant, keep a rich curriculum … it would be a good thing to look into as long as we are able to say when we have too many students,” board member Mary Ann Miller, said. “We have tuition paying students now and this is the school they chose; I think that speaks to the program.”
“I second the notion of exploring it gently,” board member Daniel Hartnett said, “I think our school may be appealing because of our small class size.”
“We are talking about negatively increasing 25 to 35 percent and that it won’t have a negative impact on the kids,” Parent Teacher Association President Chris Tice said at the meeting. She said the idea of raising revenue was approached nonchalantly by the board and noted that even if the district added three, four or five students to the class it would have a negative impact on the students. She said she would be cautious about adding to class size.
Gratto said on Tuesday that he intended to bring in more tuition-based students, but still stick to the school’s goal of small class sizes. For example, he said that if 30 new students came in to the school on a tuition-paying basis, and that tuition was $20,000 for each child, that would be $600,000 revenue for the district. He added, if the district had to add a teacher to keep class sizes small – that may cost the district $50,000, but the district could still potentially make $550,000 in profit.

Teacher Contracts
President of the Teacher’s Association of Sag Harbor, Eileen Kochanasz, spoke at Monday’s meeting about the prolonged teacher contract negotiations, which are closing in on the one-year mark.
“We are asking the board for a change in the process,” Kochanasz said, “There is an inordinate amount of time that goes by to consider the proposals.” She explained that in between the contract negotiation meetings, too much time lapses before they are able to come to the table again. She asked on Monday that the board consider authorizing the superintendent and the school’s attorney to negotiate at the table – eliminating the study and review process after each session.
Kochanasz said that as TASH president she is able to actively negotiate on the teachers’ behalf.
Wilcoxen responded that the board hasn’t discussed that but said that he supposed board members and Gratto could do so after the meeting.
“Let John [Gratto] know prior to the 10th [of December], that would clearly move this process,” said Kochanasz to Wilcoxen, “rather than stopping and waiting, stopping and waiting.”
“I’m torn,” Wilcoxen said. “On one hand I want to be honest and open, but I’m limited to what I can say, I’m only one voice of our seven.”
“We always had the authority to negotiate within parameters,” Gratto said on Tuesday. He said along with the board and the school’s attorney, he will meet with TASH members to talk about teacher negotiations on December 10.

Extra-Curricular Trips
At the start of Monday’s school board meeting, high school art teacher, Peter Solow, asked the board if he could show them a short film about past school trips to Italy.
“We hope to show you the effects and lasting effects of this very meaningful experience,” said Solow who would like to plan a trip to Italy in 2010.
At last month’s board of education meeting, a change in policy for field trips was discussed. In the past, several trips have extended beyond scheduled school vacation time and the board had its first reading of a new policy at that meeting, which outlined parameters for class-based and extra-curricular trips.
Resident Elena Loreto expressed her concerns that students would be losing valuable instructional time and also expressed concern for those students that would be left behind. Loreto asked the board to reconsider the policy.
Wilcoxen said that he did not believe the policy was ready to go yet, and it was tabled, for now.

Sag Harbor Teacher Contracts – Still Waiting to Hear

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President of the Sag Harbor Board of Education, Walter Wilcoxen has been on vacation and missed the last school board meeting where nearly 50 teachers showed up in black shirts and buttons asking for new teacher contracts. In his place sat Theresa Samot who faced the upset teachers with fellow board members and superintendent, Dr. John Gratto.
The teachers contracts expired in June, and Gratto said on Tuesday that school attorney Tom Volz has been collecting data on surrounding districts and is expected to make a presentation to the superintendent and the school board on October 23.
The teacher contracts developed in 2004 expired on June 30. The teachers and school board were not able to come to an agreement on certain issues pertaining to the contracts so the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) declared impasse in June, which required that a mediator come in to help negotiate.
TASH President Eileen Kochanasz, said that her group is not invited to the October 23 meeting and she believes it may be a while after that meeting before TASH can meet with the board and superintendent to go over the contracts.
“I don’t know what to anticipate,” said Kochanasz who explained that after the school board met with Gratto and Volz last time, she was left in the dark about the next meeting date.
“I hope we will hear something at the end of this October 23 meeting,” Kochanasz said, “but I can’t be sure.”
Kochanasz said the data being collected by Volz has to do with salaries in other nearby districts, but Wilcoxen said the district is also looking at other issues involved, like post retirement data, which is also a concern.
“Tom Volz is compiling a review of our bargaining position – but it’s more than that,” Wilcoxen said.
Business Manager Len Bernard explained that an actuarial study is being performed by Milliman Inc., a global consulting and actuarial firm, regarding post retirement issues including health benefits, which he expected to have received on Tuesday. This is a new requirement that will determine post retirement issues for the next 20 to 25 years.
“It would be irresponsible to go ahead now, for the community,” Wilcoxen said on Friday, “We are asking ourselves, are we going to have this great school 10 years from now? Well that all depends on what we do now.”
“We want to make a recommendation about everything that is known so we can do our due-diligence,” Wilcoxen said, “We would back ourselves into a corner if we didn’t.”
Wilcoxen also added that he believes the old contract is not a bad contract, and the board is trying to do the best thing for the district.
“Hopefully we will be signing in the next few weeks,” Wilcoxen said, “We’re moving forward not backward, so that is positive.”

Teachers Push to Get Negotiations Moving

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More than two dozen teachers filled the Pierson High School library at Monday night’s Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting. They were there to prove to the board they are serious about getting new contracts.
The teachers, wearing black shirts and buttons reading, “Wanted Teacher Contracts,” sat through a presentation by state assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and talks on service learning before voicing concerns about the way contract negotiations are going — or rather, not.
Earlier this year, the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) declared an impasse in negotiations. They asked for a mediator to help the board, school superintendent and TASH come to agreement about specific pieces of the contract – including salaries.
“There is no sense of urgency on your part to settle a contract almost four months after the last contract expired,” said TASH president Eileen Kochanasz on Monday night. “For us that’s just not right.”
Kochanasz, a guidance counselor at the high school, explained that at the last board meeting on September 23, the school board asked its attorney, Tom Volz, to collect further data about salaries in other districts in the area. She questioned why no meeting date had since been set to further discussions. The board maintains that Volz has yet to submit the needed data.
Kochanasz added that this is the second consecutive time that contract negotiations have failed to be completed in a timely manner.
“Is this efficient bargaining of a school?” she asked. “Am I to infer that your staff is not important to you?”
“The representative for the teachers association as well as three of the other bargaining units were unavailable from February to April,” countered board member Ed Hayes. “So no negotiations took place during that period and that is not our fault.”
“I disagree,” Kochanasz said, “We had six meetings between February and May.” She maintained that there were extensive meetings before impasse was called and added that the board had four years to collect the necessary data.
“We have asked for more information and it’s an ongoing process,” said board member Theresa Samot, who was sitting in for board president Walter Wilcoxen, who was absent. “We do appreciate the work that you do.”
TASH member Jim Kinnier noted that though bargaining began in February, the team had been ready to sit down at the table since last October.
“We will be willing to meet once a week starting this week,” Kinnier added on Monday.
But the board was not yet ready to commit to a start date for further talks.
“I talked to Tom Volz today. I can’t give you a definite date,” said superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “I could have an answer tomorrow. I expect [the next meeting] will be late October or early November.”
As of yesterday morning, Wednesday, Gratto said that Volz had not yet been able to get back to him.
“Once he finishes the analysis, we should hear back from him,” said Gratto.
Price Freeze
Gratto also announced at the meeting that the district would put a freeze of $100,000 on some supplies, professional development and conferences for certain departments.
Gratto explained that with the economy struggling and the rising cost of oil that wasn’t budgeted for last year, the school needed to reduce costs in other areas.
“We need to cut back on these things rather than scramble for money mid-year,” said Gratto, who maintains that the cuts would not affect the students.
But Chris Tice, president of the PTA, did not agree.
“I would caution that everything you mentioned does impact the kids,” said Tice who noted that cuts in the realm of staff development ultimately do affect students.
Technology Grant
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. was at Monday night’s meeting to receive a formal thank you for a $5,000 grant he helped secure for new technology at the school.
Thiele also took the opportunity to talk to parents, teachers and administrators about proposed tax relief legislation that would offer a tax cap of four percent on property tax increase.

Teachers Push for a Contract

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The  Teachers Association of Sag Harbor may have traded in black shirts for more subtle buttons,but the message is still the same: they want a new contract.  

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.

 “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.”