MANCHESTER — Both sides in the ongoing discussions over a new contract with city teachers say negotiations this week changed the “tone” of the talks — with both parties declaring the “air cleared” — and an additional meeting scheduled for later this month.
The Manchester Board of School Committee’s Special Committee on Negotiations and the Manchester Education Association’s Negotiations Committee met for nearly three hours on Wednesday. MEA President Sue Hannan and Negotiations Committee Chairman Rich Girard both characterized the talks as “constructive.”
In a joint statement released by Hannan and Girard, both parties disclosed that school negotiators made new proposals regarding sick and personal time. Discussions about the salary and health insurance proposals made by school negotiators in August were also held. General dialogue over the financial constraints within which the negotiations and the resulting impact on salary and benefit proposals was also had, a source said.
School negotiators granted a request from the MEA to delay the release of the board’s proposal on sick and personal time. Girard said the request was agreed to because the information had only been provided to the MEA on the morning of the meeting, and the union requested additional time to review the proposal.
Girard also said that because most of the meeting had centered on clearing the air, correcting misunderstandings and addressing the tone between the two parties, all with the purpose of changing the approach to the talks, discussion on the committee’s proposal didn’t get into its substance. He said it would be released at a future date.
Both sides expressed that they were encouraged by the meeting’s positive and respectful atmosphere.
“I think we succeeded in resetting the stage for these negotiations to move forward,” said Girard in a statement. “Their recognition of the work we’ve done to address their requests within the budget was appreciated. They seemed to take to heart that we understand where we’re coming from and that we’re doing everything we can, and then some, to move the district forward. I am cautiously optimistic that we’re on good footing now.”
Hannan stated that the tenor of the meeting was much improved from recent meetings and that the MEA appreciated the efforts of both sides expressing their honest views.
“We have committed that in going forward the focus will be on the promise to listen to each other, in a deliberate atmosphere of respect and understanding,” said Hannan in a statement. “A tremendous amount of work from both teams has been done to date and we are hopeful that in future meetings we can move toward a fair and equitable resolution for Manchester educators,” said Hannan.
The most recent agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the MEA expired on June 30, 2018.
This past June, both sides declared they were ready to “return to the table,” after union and school officials voted to reject the results of a fact finder’s report on the negotiations.
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.
Among the new ground rules is language dictating the release of information on bargaining sessions.
“Unless otherwise mutually agreed, no additional information shall be released publicly other than proposals and the public statements referenced above,” the rules state. “Should impasse be declared, this restriction shall no longer apply. This provision shall not be construed to prevent the parties from updating union membership or the Board of School Committee on the status/nature of negotiations by their respective bargaining teams or correcting, without editorial content, any public misinformation.”
This week’s meeting came two days after school board members voted to reject a request from Mayor Joyce Craig for authorization for Manchester’s new superintendent of schools to take over negotiations between the teachers union and the district, following months of contract talks without a new deal.
The request failed by one vote, with eight school board members opposed — Girard, Kathleen Arnold, Lisa Freeman, Ross Terrio, Jimmy Lehoux, Art Beaudry, John Avard, and Kelly Thomas.
Seven members voting in favor of the request were Craig, Sarah Ambrogi, Mary Georges, Leslie Want, Katie Desrochers, Pat Long and Dan Bergeron.
Another meeting is set for Sept. 25, Girard said. The MEA committed to sending questions and concerns with the committee’s recent proposals ahead of time so that school negotiators can have the answers ready for that meeting in the hope that real progress can be made on these important issues.