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Manchester teachers rally ahead of board meeting

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 11. 2018 9:38PM
This image of Monday's rally is taken from the Walk & Rally to Support Manchester Public School Educators. (FACEBOOK/Matt Wilhelm/Walk and Rally to Support Manchester Public School Educators)

MANCHESTER — Hundreds of city teachers rallied outside City Hall in support of a new contract Monday night, one week after their union declared an impasse in negotiations with city officials.

Members of the Manchester Education Association (MEA) gathered at Veterans Memorial Park then walked to City Hall to rally ahead of Monday night’s meeting of the Board of School Committee. Many members wearing red shirts headed inside and filled both levels of the aldermanic chambers during the meeting.

Last Monday the teachers union declared that talks with the school board’s negotiating team over a new contract had hit an impasse, with union leadership citing an inability to find “common ground” and school officials blaming teacher salary proposals they say top $20 million over three years.

The current agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the Manchester Education Association (MEA) expires June 30. Talks between the two sides began earlier this spring.

“Yes, we are the ones who declared an impasse,” MEA President Sue Hannan said Monday night. “The reason we called for an impasse was because we felt everyone needed to step back from the table and look at what has been done so far — and what has been done so far is a lot of talking but no action.”

Several union and community members addressed the contract situation during the public forum portion of the meeting.

“I’m here to let you know how frustrating it is to watch your coworkers worry about budgets,” said Marie Schnick, a teacher at Gossler Park Elementary School who is retiring after 21 years on the job. “It makes for a very anxious school opening in September.”

“Keep the talks going,” said city resident Glenn Ouellette. “It’s very important for teachers and the citizens in this city.”

Rich Girard, chair of the district’s Special Committee on Negotiations and At Large member of the school board, said last week committee members were “surprised and disappointed” by the union’s decision. He said in a statement the board received “salary proposals from the association that would have cost nearly $20 million over three years and more than $28 million over five years.”

Girard said an offer to bring in an outside facilitator was rejected.

“We couldn’t even go to mediation, because a mediator wouldn’t even have been able to help,” said Hannan Monday night. “We don’t mind restarting it, even tomorrow, just to get back to the table. Maybe even some marathon sessions this summer.”

City aldermen voted in 2015 to ratify a new three-year contract with city teachers and overrode a veto by former mayor Ted Gatsas. Gatsas repeatedly cited as reasons for his veto projected deficits in excess of $700,000 he said the deal would create in fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2018. The vote sparked numerous conflict-of-interest complaints against aldermen who voted for the deal, despite having relatives working in the school district.

According to language included in the current contract with city teachers, if an impasse is declared either party may request the appointment of a mediator, or, within seven calendar days after an impasse is declared, the parties — if both agree — may pursue fact-finding as the first step in resolving the dispute.

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