Amherst looking for union givebacks
By SCOTT MERZBACH
Friday, June 5, 2009
AMHERST - With the teachers union not prepared to reduce or eliminate cost-of-living adjustments in the next budget year, getting other municipal unions to adjust their salary arrangements may be a daunting task.
But Town Manager Larry Shaffer said Wednesday that, despite the Amherst-Pelham Education Association's reluctance to give up its negotiated pay raises, he will engage in respectful, courteous discussion with the other unions.
"We will have a conversation with our unions, but I won't predict what their response will be," Shaffer said.
Shaffer has twice sent letters to the police, public works and service employees unions, the three unions on the town side with settled contracts for next year, asking their members to consider forgoing cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) because of the difficult budget year. But all have said that unless the teachers are on board with similar discussions on the COLAs, they would be unwilling to do so.
The COLAs on the town side total about $380,000.
Already, more than nine positions have been removed from next year's budget, and Shaffer said another six to seven jobs could be eliminated to bring the town budget to $18.3 million. The specific positions being cut have not yet been outlined by Shaffer, though department heads are actively working with Shaffer on this task.
Tim Sheehan, president of the Amherst-Pelham Education Association, said Wednesday that no meetings are scheduled with the School Committee to discuss the teachers' contract. Instead, teachers are prepared to wait and see how other things play out that affect the budgets for the regional and elementary schools.
"We bargained in good faith," Sheehan said. "It's the obligation of both parties to uphold the terms of the contract."
Sheehan said he was dismayed at the tone of the School Committee meeting this week, at which it was announced that up to 50 full-time equivalents will be laid off and at which committee member Andrew Churchill said he wanted to "send a clear signal" to the association in hopes it would reconsider its decision not to reopen the contract and its wage provisions. The contract calls for 3.5 percent COLAs, and about half of the teachers will also get 4 percent step raises.
Sheehan said Churchill was at the bargaining table when the contracts were negotiated.
He added that there have already been concessions from teachers. First, the union accepted the new health plan for school and town employees that will result in $280,000 in savings for the school budget. This comes by increasing the cost of co-pays for doctor visits and medication purchases, meaning some teachers will see an increase in out-of-pocket expenses.
"Teachers should be acknowledged for that and appreciated," Shaffer said. "It's movement."
With the exception of the fire union, all municipal unions have agreed to this, as well, saving $85,442. "It's a big number, and very gratifying," Shaffer said.
Shaffer said it reduces the amount of premiums the town has to place in its health trust fund and encourages employees to transition to an HMO, which is less expensive for the town.
The teachers union, Sheehan said, is also giving up its stipends for individual teachers and groups of teachers who do high-quality research. Finally, middle school staff recently revised the master schedule, a means of providing more class offerings for students, but which will force staff to work harder during the school day and need to do more work at night, Sheehan said.
At the Tuesday School Committee meeting, member Irv Rhodes called the cuts "devastating and unconscionable."
He said all around the country, teachers are agreeing to concessions rather than sacrificing the jobs of their colleagues. "Adults used to sacrifice for kids, and it wasn't the other way around," he said.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.