August 25. 2018 10:54PM

Paul Feely's City Hall: Union leaders say they want a deal done by the start of school


Members of the school board's negotiations committee and the Manchester Education Association continue to trade barbs over accusations the union isn't bargaining in good faith for a new contract.

As reported last week in the New Hampshire Union Leader, Rich Girard, the school board Special Committee on Negotiations chairman and at-large board member, said his committee is canceling two upcoming meetings with the MEA.

"Candidly, we're not sure how to negotiate with an organization that has refused the offer of a facilitator, declared impasse, asked to restart negotiations, changed nothing it has proposed and refuses to have discussions on any topic other than those it dictates, all the while claiming it wants to quickly come to an agreement," Girard wrote in an email to MEA leadership. "We do not see this as bargaining in good faith."

Negotiations between the district and the MEA resumed July 26 following an eight-week hiatus. Union leadership had declared an impasse on June 4 citing an inability to find "common ground." The most recent agreement with the 1,100-member MEA expired on June 30.

In the wake of news reports on the "good faith" accusations, MEA leadership sent an "Urgent Negotiations Update" to members in which it declared progress has been "practically non-existent."

"Months ago, we gave the school board two comprehensive salary proposals and have requested that the SB present us with a counterproposal, which they have not done," the message reads. "It is obvious that they are planning to follow their past practice of dragging out the process for as long as possible. We must turn this around and demand that they negotiate in good faith."

In the communication to members, MEA leaders state they want to have a contract in place before school opens on Sept. 5, even if it requires "non-stop marathon" bargaining sessions.

"Our team extensively researched many teacher contracts and the Manchester police three-year contract," the message states. "We will not settle for anything less than what the police received, including a COLA (cost of living allowance) each year added to the base salary, full-indexed pay steps, and the introduction of longevity pay."

That police contract, approved by city aldermen in September 2016 - and vetoed by former Mayor Ted Gatsas before board members overrode his veto - generated increases in patrolmen salary and overtime costs of $911,582, $268,000 in pension costs and $270,000 in severance costs, according to a financial analysis by the city.

After reading the message, Girard said it underscores the reasons why the negotiations committee took the step it took last week.

"The MEA has often referenced the police contract in our discussions," Girard wrote in an email to school board members and district officials. "Now they've come out and said they will accept nothing less than what the police got. We maintain this is not bargaining in good faith."

In an email to the Union Leader. MEA president Sue Hannan said in recent meetings with the school negotiations team, district counsel has not been present. "This is a major change in the way we have historically bargained," Hannan wrote. "We did have a productive meeting about the health insurance proposal, and although it did not contain numbers on how it would directly and personally affect our members, we have been considering it. The board has promised the MEA that salary proposals were close to ready at quite a few meetings, but nothing has come through. We have been willing to meet about working conditions, district needs and student instructional needs. The calendar is set for the coming school year, so we see it as a lower priority at this time."

"With respect to their claim on our health insurance proposal, this is not true," Girard said. "They were provided with a projected rate sheet that showed what the new cost of coverage for both the district and the teachers would be. Since health insurance is one of their allowed topics of discussion, they could have countered our request to discuss the calendar with their response to our health insurance proposal. We would have had that discussion."

"Concerning the calendar, the proposal we asked to discuss was not our original proposal, which was made in March, but a revision offered in May," Girard said. "In response to that proposal, the MEA declared impasse."

Regarding salary and sick time proposals, Girard said he has been "deliberately cautious" in discussing them.

"We have said they will be brought forward when we know the numbers work and are accurate," Girard said. "That has consistently been the answer we've given in response to their requests for a proposal. We have diligently worked on a salary proposal and a sick-time proposal and hope we'll have something finalized before Labor Day weekend."

Union officials says it is "sad to have to fight for what is right, but do so we must."

"If they agreed to an excellent contract for the police, we deserve no less, especially in light of the fact that we have fallen way behind," union officials wrote in their bargaining update, claiming city teachers are now ranked 66th in the state in terms of pay. "... We once were among the best paid educators in the state."

"Every member of the negotiations committee and school board appreciates the hard work and dedication of Manchester's teachers," Girard said. "We believe they, along with our students and taxpayers, deserve a contract that addresses the underlying issues facing the district. For a fair contract to be reached, these negotiations need to be a two-way street. The MEA's refusal to meet unless the topic pleases them while we work on the proposals they are waiting for hardly demonstrates the necessary level of cooperation needed to obtain an agreement."

MEA members plan to rally outside City Hall Monday from 6-6:45 p.m., then attend the Board of School Committee - wearing red - at 7 p.m.

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Manchester Proud, the new citizens' coalition committed to a vision for city schools where students, families and the community feel "supported, engaged, and proud to make Manchester their home," has issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) from qualified consulting firms to perform a "comprehensive assessment" of the Manchester school district and its individual schools.

The district's current strategic plan expired at the end of the 2017-18 school year. Manchester Proud has proposed funding three aspects of the school district's strategic planning team as it draws up a new plan:

. Project management over the planning effort

. Strategic consulting

. "Intensive community engagement"

As part of the RFP, Manchester Proud is seeking consulting firms prepared to provide recommendations based upon their assessments "for strategies MSD should implement to improve student outcomes and opportunities."

Members of Manchester Proud held a webinar last week to go over the RFP and answer questions, as well as a town hall-style meeting at the city library.

Manchester Proud plans to break the strategic planning process into two phases.

Phase I will consist of a comprehensive assessment of MSD and its individual schools - including a look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and risks - leading to recommendations for strategies with which Manchester Proud and the district can move ahead. Phase II will consist of building the strategic plan and its component parts (i.e., vision, strategies, budget, etc.).

The RFP is seeking qualified firms for Phase I only at this time.

The deadline for submissions is noon on Friday, Sept. 14. Interviews with potential firms will be held Sept. 24-28, with a firm expected to be selected the week of Oct. 1.

Manchester Proud said a start date of Monday, Oct. 15, has been targeted for the new consultant to begin work.

Last but not least this week, congratulations go out to Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart, who placed second in the amateur category at the 13th annual City Hall Employee & Family Art Show. Stewart created a mixed-media piece titled "Stuck on Manchester," made from "sticker graffiti" found on the backs of signs downtown.

In all, organizers received 121 submissions from folks ranging from elected officials and teachers to city employees and their family members.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at