MANCHESTER — School officials say a mediation session between the district’s negotiations team and representatives of the Manchester Education Association (MEA) held Tuesday “did not yield the results we had hoped for,” and are disputing claims by union leadership the district is refusing to sit down with them for a second time this week.
A mediation session with the MEA was held Tuesday, after a session scheduled for March 21 was canceled because the mediator became sick and was unable to attend.
MEA negotiators informed the district negotiations committee last month of their decision to go to mediation. No further contract discussions have taken place since.
According to school board negotiations committee chair and at-large school board member Rich Girard, MEA President Sue Hannan was not present at Tuesday’s session because she was attending a funeral out of state.
Girard said the session ended after MEA Vice President Maxine Mosley left to attend an MEA meeting.
“The school board’s negotiations committee was neither informed that Mrs. Hannan would be absent nor that the meeting would have to end by 2:30 p.m. in advance of today’s session,” said Girard on Tuesday.
However, Hannan said Wednesday morning, “It was clear during the mediation session that the three-pronged approach that the board was taking was not going to be accepted by MEA at this time. The MEA indicated that it would need more time to evaluate part of the proposal regarding paid time off. The MEA was very clear that there were a lot of unknowns in the board’s proposal and that we could not consider a proposal without definitive numbers or long-term implications for our members.”
According to Hannan, the mediator suggested some alternatives which led to a conversation about a potential one-year deal regarding money, staying within the tax cap, and the price point of $1.3 million.
“This number would have to include all the additional elements of salary including FICA, Social Security, and retirement that the district would be obligated to pay,” said Hannan. “MEA has not declared impasse. Mr. Girard is again mischaracterizing the negotiations process and rules. The mediator was scheduled for both Tuesday and Thursday should we have needed the second day. The board refused to continue to meet on Thursday, as it had refused to meet with MEA when the mediator was sick.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Ward 11 school board member Katie Desrochers, a member of the district’s negotiations committee, strongly disputed Hannan’s claim a second mediation day was ever in the mix.
“I know that I speak for everyone on the BOSC Negotiations Subcommittee that we are confused and saddened by the MEA’s false claims,” wrote Desrochers in an email to a Union Leader reporter. “What I find disturbing is the response given by the MEA with respect to their brief attendance at mediation, and the invention of a second mediation session which was claimed to be scheduled for Thursday, April 11. Let me be clear — there was no second day of mediation scheduled.”
Desrochers writes that April 11 was an option for an available date for scheduling a mediation session, but the district’s attorney could not attend.
“(That date) was never an option for even a single day of mediation, let alone a second day,” wrote Desrochers. “I cannot fathom what would lead the MEA to claim that there was a second mediation day scheduled and that the BOSC Negotiations Subcommittee is refusing to attend. This is simply false. I am insulted that this is being suggested by the MEA. As someone who has always stood up for them and been in their corner, I can only say that my feelings are hurt and I am just at a loss for an explanation.”
Desrochers went on to say she has been one of the strongest supporters of the MEA on the negotiations team.
“I was truly looking forward to attending the mediation, and was very hopeful that we could reach an agreement with the assistance of a paid mediator,” wrote Desrochers. “I was prepared to spend the day working on getting a fair and equitable contract for the teachers. In fact, I used a paid vacation day to do so. I feel that I have always been extremely supportive of the MEA. I have many close friends in the bargaining unit, I have loved every teacher that my child has had, as well as the many teachers whose work I have witnessed firsthand at West High School, Parkside and Gossler. A contract for teachers is of the utmost importance to me.”
“We all took personal time to be there and it was disrespectful that the MEA did not notify us about any scheduling conflicts until we got there,” concludes Desrochers. “We were prepared to be there until midnight to get something done.”
Girard backed up Desrochers’ claims, and said the negotiations committee agreed to consider a one-year contract proposal put forth by the MEA, under the condition that it stayed within the city’s tax cap and “did not perpetuate the equity issues raised by the MEA, which were addressed by the negotiation committee’s proposals.”
Girard said once the committee receives the MEA proposal, members will determine the next steps.
Girard said the school board plans to release the proposals made to the MEA since talks resumed in November, as he believes the MEA’s invocation of mediation equates to a declaration of impasse. The committee also plans to release the district’s cost-outs of the proposals made by the MEA.
“The committee deferred release of this material at the time the MEA invoked mediation with the hope that an agreement would be reached,” said Girard. “Since that time, the committee has grown concerned with the amount of misinformation circulating about negotiations and believes it is now necessary to release this information to correct the record.”
The most recent agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the 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.
However, negotiation sessions in August were 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.
There have been no talks with the MEA since both sides last met on January 31, aside from communication from the union of its desire to invoke mediation.
Earlier this month, Girard said the negotiations committee is actively negotiating with teams representing the district’s paraprofessionals, principals, directors and coordinators. He also said there’s been correspondence with the team representing the district’s support staff, which has reached agreement with the committee on several items.
“While it waits for the MEA’s next proposal, the committee will continue negotiations with the district’s other bargaining units with the intent of bringing them to a successful conclusion in advance of any final decisions on the budget,” said Girard.