MANCHESTER — City schools may be closed this week for spring recess, but school board members are scheduled to convene at City Hall for a special session to review contract proposals presented to the city teachers union.
Today’s special meeting is scheduled to get underway at 5:30 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chambers at City Hall.
The meeting is expected to feature a comprehensive presentation on the status of contract negotiations between the school district’s Negotiations Committee, chaired by at-large school board member Rich Girard, and negotiators for the Manchester Education Association (MEA).
Negotiations Committee members include school board members Sarah Ambrogi, Katie Desrochers, Jimmy Lehoux, and Ross Terrio.
The most recent agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the MEA expired on June 30, 2018.
One thing tonight’s session will not include is a response from the MEA. Union President Sue Hannan said the district has officially declared an impasse, and can now make its proposals public. “That is all their presentation should be, but we know it won’t be as cut and dry as that,” wrote Hannan in an email to a New Hampshire Union Leader reporter. “MEA is not the group being unreasonable. It is the BOSC.”
According to a copy of the negotiation committee’s presentation posted on the school district website, www.mansd.org, the negotiation committee’s initial salary proposal to the union included:
Expansion from 15 to 24 salary steps.
Steps 2-19 increase by 3% of previous step amount.
Steps 20-24 increase by 1.5% of previous step amount.
Staff that was frozen during last contract negotiation advanced up to 2 make-up steps.
Staff currently frozen to receive make-up steps.
According to the committee, the MEA countered with a proposal where “everybody gets make-up steps, even if they were never frozen on the scale,” which perpetuates income disparity between teachers with the same seniority.
The committee claims the FY ‘20 cost of the MEA proposal was $3.74 million, “well beyond what we could afford,” according to its presentation.
The negotiations committee presented its latest proposal on Feb. 7, which committee members say continued the same basic MEA framework, added almost $1 million to its prior proposal, and “significantly closed the gap between proposals” and “was to have been the basis for continued negotiation” with “room to negotiate further increases.”
“That proposal cut the gap between both sides’ prior offers down to $1.5 million,” district negotiations committee members report. “It did not create any spike years, did not exceed our cap calculations but did provide room to further negotiate a salary increase.”
Committee members say between Monday, Feb. 11 and Tuesday, Feb. 19 they sent the MEA two emails asking for a meeting, had two phone conversations asking for a meeting, and conducted one conversation in person asking for a meeting. The MEA then invoked mediation on Feb. 21.
“We were very surprised that the MEA invoked mediation,” committee members report in their presentation. “Even though its counter offers were not financially feasible, they did lead to what we thought were constructive discussions that improved everybody’s understanding of both sides’ proposals and the financial considerations driving them. That, coupled with the significant improvement in our last salary offer and their request to issue a joint statement advising of our progress gave us hope that we were approaching an agreement.”
“The board’s three-legged proposal to MEA, when dissected, would not have afforded every employee in the bargaining unit an equal opportunity to advance their pay,” wrote Hannan in an email Sunday. “Their proposal on health insurance was not rejected by MEA, but was accepted in principle as long as the new salary schedule ensured no educator ended up with less money. The MEA has been willing to collaborate with the BOSC Negotiation Committee and is still willing to meet. We made significant progress from November through January. Based on the recommendation of the mediator, Mike Ryan, MEA put together a one-year salary proposal which fell within the $1.3 million cap imposed by the Board of School Committee. MEA was willing to submit that proposal for a membership vote. BOSC said ‘no.’”
Hannan said the negotiations committee’s initial salary proposal “spread the money so thin, no one who lost money over time because of frozen steps would have recovered their due.
“In many cases, the educator would have ended up on the correct step, but making less money than they do now,” said Hannan. “This would not cover the increase in health insurance, or the cost of the PTO proposals. And those people would have had frozen money until the step schedule caught up with them.”
“It was the earnest hope of our team that we would reach agreement with our Teachers,” report members of the district’s Negotiations Committee. “We value their contributions at every level. We are deeply disappointed that we have been unable to reach agreement despite the extensive efforts of our entire district team. We know we can’t give our teachers all they deserve but we hope that they will see and respect the enormous effort we’ve made to better provide for them and want them to know we have done this gladly as we appreciate all they do. We look forward to starting the negotiations again when the opportunity presents itself and we are hopeful that progress can be made.”