MANCHESTER — Despite an announcement earlier this month saying progress was being made in talks with city teachers on a new contract, the chair of the school district’s negotiations committee said Monday discussions have now stalled.
In a statement issued Monday, School Board Negotiations Committee Chairman Rich Girard announced negotiators for the Manchester Education Association (MEA) informed the committee of their decision to go to mediation.
Girard said as a result, there will be no further contract discussions until the mediation session, currently scheduled for March 21, takes place.
“Frankly, we were caught by surprise and are disappointed by the MEA’s decision,” said Girard in a statement. “We believed substantial progress had been made, which we announced in a joint statement just a couple of weeks ago, and were awaiting a response to the most recent salary offer we made when we got the news. At this point, we really don’t know what concerns they have that led to this decision.”
MEA President Sue Hannan confirmed the union has requested to go to mediation regarding negotiations of salary.
“Both sides have moved significantly toward finding a salary increase that would be mutually beneficial,” said Hannan. “MEA came in with many attempts to meet the Board at their numbers. We all agreed that we needed to find a proposal that would be ratifiable by both sides, but we could not. While progress was made, the tax cap and competing educational needs was the problem moving forward.”
Girard noted the MEA’s decision to go to mediation will further delay the conclusion of talks and may jeopardize the board’s ability to add money to its budget request to fund a new contract.
“March 21st is a ways away and past the goal we’d mutually set to come to terms prior to Superintendent (Dr. Bolgen) Vargas making his budget recommendations to the school board,” said Girard in a statement. “At this point, it seems clear we’re going to have to revise our budget request to accommodate any agreement we might reach with the teachers.”
“MEA views the input of a mediator a smart and needed step so that the teams could hopefully proceed,” said Hannan in an email. “At all times, MEA continues to desire a successor contract that respects and honors the work that Manchester Educators do every day to educate Manchester Public School students.”
The most recent agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the Manchester Education Association (MEA) expired on June 30, 2018. After union leadership declared an impasse on June 4 — citing an inability to find “common ground” — negotiations between the district and the MEA resumed July 26. Four negotiation sessions between the two sides were scheduled in late July and August.
Planned negotiation sessions in August were then canceled, with Girard sending emails to union officials accusing the MEA of not bargaining in good faith on a new contract.
Girard said at the time the union refused to come back to the table until his committee was ready to talk salaries. MEA leadership sent a letter to school board members in October, announcing a desire to return to the table.
On Nov. 3, negotiations resumed with the board’s Negotiations Committee presenting a proposal addressing salaries, health benefits and sick time to the MEA. After additional discussion, both sides agreed to establish a joint subcommittee to further review the board’s proposals at a meeting on Dec. 4. That committee, composed of Hannan, MEA negotiator Michelle Couture, Girard and Ward 8 school board member Jimmy Lehoux met with school district Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis for “over two hours” on Dec. 12, according to a news release, to gain a better understanding of the board’s proposals.