MANCHESTER — Both sides in the ongoing talks over a new contract with city teachers say they are ready to “return to the table,” after school and union officials voted to reject the results of a fact finder’s report on the negotiations.
A fact finder’s report was issued June 7 by arbitration attorney James Cooper, with a section on health insurance amended on June 12. The report was considered confidential for 10 days following issuance. The contents of the report became public last week, when representatives of the Manchester Education Association (MEA) and the school board released copies of the report.
School board members voted Monday night 12-2 to reject the report, with only At Large member Pat Long and Mayor Joyce Craig voting in favor of it. Ward 12’s Kelly Thomas was absent.
According to MEA President Sue Hannnan, city teachers also voted to reject the report, on a roughly “70-30” split.
Both sides can now resume negotiations on a new contract.
“The MEA has been very open to continuing to negotiate throughout this latest process,” said Hannan in a statement. “Our members are looking forward to a successor contract that will maintain the rights we have worked hard for over the last 40 years. We also are excited to develop the needs for the future of education in Manchester through this process. Our students are our priority as we discuss class size, educator voice, and safety.”
“Last night, the Board of School Committee accepted our unanimous recommendation to reject the fact-finder’s report,” reads a statement issued by the school board’s Special Committee on Negotiations. “While we believed the fact-finder’s recommendations were simply not workable on multiple fronts, we also believe it provided opportunities to advance negotiations with the Manchester Education Association. We are eager to return to the table and broach these topics with the association’s negotiating team and are hopeful that an agreement can be reached. We sincerely want an agreement in place no later than the start of the coming school year and we want to ensure, as best we can, that any agreement reliably enables the board to fairly provide for the needs of its teachers and students. That means any agreement must be financially sustainable in a school district that has many, many needs and is constrained by a tax cap.”
Negotiations committee members include school board members Sarah Ambrogi, Katie Desrochers, Jimmy Lehoux, Ross Terrio and Rich Girard.
The most recent agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the MEA expired on June 30, 2018.
Craig issued a statement Tuesday saying she is committed to “finding a resolution as soon as possible.”
“Negotiations have been going on for many months now, and for the past school year, our educators have been operating without a contract,” said Craig in a statement. “There’s been a lot of frustration on both sides, and based on an independent third-party’s evaluation of the situation, the fact-finder’s report came forward with reasonable recommendations on a path forward. The report wasn’t perfect, but it was something the district could afford, and there were long-term financial benefits as well.”
“As I’ve said many times before, our educators deserve a fair and sustainable contract,” added Craig. “It’s important we find common ground so that we can move forward together, along with Dr. Goldhardt, our new superintendent, so we can begin the school year focused on improving student achievement.”
According to the fact finder’s report, there are “four major obstacles for the parties to overcome in order to reach even a partial agreement”: salaries and salary scale, health insurance, paid time off versus sick leave, and pending state legislation.
Cooper recommends the adoption of a salary schedule that was offered by the school board back on Feb. 7.
“While the Association (MEA) has not given on all aspects of the remaining issues in dispute, there has been sufficient give and take on the remaining issues that whatever the excess cost is to implement the School Board’s February 7, 2019 salary proposal, I recommend it,” writes Cooper.
“This is a case where getting the school board to where they want to be will take all of the four years that this salary will be in effect. But if this is the cost of making a peaceful transition to a worthwhile and workable salary scale, I doubt that as of June 30, 2023 anyone will be upset that this recommendation has brought four years of salary peace.”
On health insurance, Cooper recommends the school board’s program be implemented in the first year of any new contract, because Elliot Hospital is included in the network.
“I recommend this notwithstanding the fact that Elliot Hospital is not included within the network for labs and imaging because teachers should be able to readily access other providers of such services which are included within the network,” writes Cooper. “It is also recommended that the school board continue their efforts to bring Elliot Hospital and CMC (Catholic Medical Center) into the network for all medical purposes.”
On the issue of paid time off versus sick leave, Cooper’s recommendation is the parties continue negotiations on the issue of providing PTO in lieu of sick leave, but “for now I am unwilling to recommend wholesale adoption of a PTO in lieu of accrued sick leave.”
The school board proposed the elimination of accrued sick leave and the adoption of a PTO proposal where each teacher would be entitled to 11 days of paid time off, which would include all of their excused time off including sick leave, personal leave, Association leave, sick leave bank and such other time off except professional development days and bereavement leave, as currently provided in the contract.
In place of the use of accrued sick leave, school officials proposed a short-term disability policy which would pay 60% of an employee’s salary (federal income tax free) which would cover the teacher after 14 days of sickness/disability and for up to 26 weeks. If a teacher remained disabled after 26 weeks, the teacher would be eligible for long-term disability until Social Security retirement age.
The school board proposed any teacher with accrued sick leave as of June 30, 2019, would be eligible for a full payout of accrued sick leave after twenty years of service in the school district.