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June 25. 2013 11:00PM

Contract dispute with Manchester teachers’ union continues

MANCHESTER — Two more school employees unions have signed onto new contract deals, but the dispute with the teachers’ union continues.

The Board of School Committee on Monday ratified two-year contracts with the district’s principals and the directors and coordinators. Both are represented by Teamsters Local 633.

The agreement is essentially identical to the one offered to all five of the district’s bargaining units: An increase in health care premiums to 15 to 20 percent (depending on the health plan), coupled with a 2.17 percent raise each of the next two years (the raise is linked to the tax cap).

The agreement with the directors and coordinators is projected to save the district about $39,000 over two years, while the agreement with the principals is estimated to cost the district $13,000 over two years. The unions are the smallest of the five district employee associations, representing less than 100 employees.

Ward 10 school board member John Avard, who chairs the board’s negotiations subcommittee, said the salary raises were costly for the principals, since they are the most highly compensated employee group in the district.

Avard said he was obligated, out of principle, to make the same offer to all of the district’s unions.

He reiterated his call for the teachers’ union, the district’s largest, to accept the board’s offer. “In the end, this deal takes one more group off the island,” Avard said. “It’s the same package, everything.”

The contracts were ratified by the school board on Monday by 10 votes.

Mayor Ted Gatsas voted against them, arguing they didn’t bring enough savings or concessions.

Gatsas said he was especially concerned that the principals’ contract made no provision for increasing the number of work days per year, a change he and Superintendent Thomas Brennan have backed.

Instead, the negotiators agreed to form a committee in the fall to study an increase in the working days.

“They’re saying, ‘Here, we’ll give you this contract, but in September let’s talk about extra work days,’” Gatsas said. “Why would (the principals) do that?”

Meanwhile, another contract dispute has emerged with the teachers’ union, the Manchester Education Association, this one concerning a Memorandum of Understanding that alters the start and stop times for teachers in the fall. School principals have raised concerns that the change could threaten student safety, since it would require teachers to stay only five minutes after classes get out, rather than the current 15.The MOU was signed following the adoption earlier this year of a new school calendar that shortens the school year by five days, while lengthening the school day.

Webster Elementary School Principal Chris Martin spoke before the school board Monday, arguing the shorter after-school time for teachers could pose a safety problem if, for example, a fight breaks out, or kids need help boarding buses.

“The problem is this does not allow for enough time to supervise the kids,” Martin said. “We can only rely on the generosity of teachers so much.”

The school board on Monday rejected a plan to spend close to $500,000 over two years to pay for more staffing time for teachers, as well as to bring back Building Level Instructional Leaders (BLILs), teachers who take on administrative functions at schools.

The plan was considered too costly. Gatsas noted that it would offset nearly all the savings from contract concessions with the unions that have reached agreements so far.

Avard said he was hopeful that an agreement could be reached with the teachers in the interest of student safety.

“We’re exploring all options, as far as the calendar goes,” he said. “In the end, I have a lot of confidence the two teams will sit down and work things out.”

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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