The Other Side of the Conversation in Tiverton
Having just received the press release that the Tiverton School Committee sent around on Sunday, I’m surprised not to have heard the details of its side of the negotiation elsewhere:
“Just as with the health care proposal, we have been working with NEA-Tiverton regarding salary issues,” stated deMedeiros. “However, it was our understanding that the two parties were trying to negotiate these issues at the negotiation table, not in the media. Given the NEA’s decision to suggest publicly that we have not provided them with salary proposals, we now feel obligated to share publicly the two proposals we’ve made to NEA. The most recent of these proposals was submitted to the NEA-Tiverton leadership on August 16th and the NEA has not yet responded.”
The School Committee’s original salary proposal, submitted to NEA-Tiverton on May 8, 2007 was for a 3% total increase over the life of the 3-year contract, spread out as 1% in each year. These raises would be in addition to step increases also included in the contract proposal. Additionally, the Committee suggested providing salary incentives for teachers who have attained a Doctorate and those who have achieved national teacher board certification.
The School Committee received a counter-proposal from NEA-Tiverton on August 8th which called for a 12% total increase over the life of the contract, spread out as 4% in each year. These raises would also be in addition to step increases included in the contract proposal. While the NEA agreed with the addition of incentives for teachers who attain a Doctorate or achieve national board certification, the amount of those incentives differed substantially.
The School Committee reviewed the NEA’s proposal on August 14th and immediately provided NEA-Tiverton with a counter-proposal that would provide a 4.5% total increase over the life of the contract with the annual percentages to be determined as part of the final contract negotiations. This counter-proposal was submitted to the Union on August 16th. Again, these raises would be in addition to step increases included in the contract proposal and the Committee kept their recommendations regarding Doctorate and national certification incentives.
Additionally, the Committee indicates that the District’s health care proposal submitted to the NEA on May 8, 2007, is projected to save the District approximately $270,000 based on projected cost increases for health care. NEA-Tiverton has not yet provided a response to the Committee’s proposal. The Committee twice considered and health savings account proposal given them by NEA-Tiverton and twice rejected it as too costly to the District.
“We are sharing this to make sure that it is clear that we have presented two proposals to NEA-Tiverton regarding salaries but have not yet heard back from the NEA on our latest proposal which they were given on August 16th,” said deMedeiros. “As you can see, it is not the School Committee that has delayed in making decisions on proposals. The NEA did not respond to our initial salary and benefit proposal for three months after we gave it to them. Each time we’ve received proposals, we’ve responded within a matter of a week or two. We are still waiting on their response to the counter-proposal we gave them on August 16th.”
deMedeiros finished with stating “We must also underscore that we have a very limited amount of money with which to negotiate. We anticipate that costs will increase in other areas, such as heating oil and supplies, as they do normally. We are obligated to come to agreement on a contract which is fair to all parties involved — our students, our parents, our taxpayers, our teachers and the District, which is one that allows Tiverton to maintain high-quality schools that are affordable to our taxpayers.”
The union has been using the media to generate the impression that the school committee has been playing games, but given the information that didn’t make it into the stories — at first because the committee didn’t wish to publicly release details of its negotiations — it looks as if the union just didn’t like the terms to which fiscal restraints limit the town. As I expected, for example, the union’s healthcare proposal wasn’t floating in a void; its savings were not equal to those planned by the school committee.
In response to an email from one of the NEA negotiators (also a Tiverton teacher), School Committee Vice Chairperson Michael Burk explained:
I am sure you are aware that the Committee could not hold a meeting without providing proper written public notice 48 hours in advance. I believe that [Superintendent] Rearick indicated yesterday morning that he would have us post a meeting for Tuesday evening, the earliest we would be able to do so in compliance with the open meetings laws. Since your team decided to not present Mr. Rearick with a proposal, we were unable to schedule such a meeting. However, as we have also noted, we do have a meeting scheduled for Thursday, September 6th which has been properly posted to allow us to consider any substantive counter-proposals submitted to Mr. Rearick by NEA.
Given that it is the School Committee which as been waiting for nearly 3 weeks for a counter-proposal from the NEA, it seems odd to me that the NEA would be calling a strike because of delays in contract talks. We haven’t left the bargaining table but cannot respond to something that is not there. I and I know my fellow School Committee members strongly believe that an illegal Teachers’ strike is not in the best interest of our students, our parents or our taxpayers. Unfortunately, we are not calling this strike and therefore have no control over that decision.
In an email to me, Mr. Burk details subsequent events, including a meeting with the full committee, the absence of which had been an ostensible sticking point from the unions perspective:
This afternoon [Monday] we held another emergency meeting. At the beginning of our Executive Session, we asked the union for this proposal but they would not give it to us. After about an hour of our Executive Session, we came back to the public session and again asked for the union’s proposal. They stated they did not have it with them and it would take them an hour to get it to us. We said we would wait.
They came back in an hour with a proposal that changed very little in salary and, dollar wise, very little in contributing to health care costs. Their salary proposal was for 3.75% each year over 3 years for a total of 11.25%, in addition to step increases. Currently they pay flat rates for health care – $1100 family and $650 individual. They suggested in this latest proposal to raise that to $1150 and $700 in year one; $1250 and $750 in year 2 and $1350 and $800 in year 3. (Our original health care proposal to them asked for a tiered system based on where a teacher is in the salary steps with teachers at the lowest step paying 15% of the health care premium, teachers in the middle steps paying 20% and teachers at the highest steps paying 25%).
While we spent a few hours working through the numbers, we still came up short in being able to identify a counter proposal that would stay within our fiscal constraints but provide teachers with salary increases in the last 2 years of the contract. We asked the union to give us until Thursday to have our fiscal staff work through more details to see if we could find a way address those issues; they instead chose to strike.