By NICK GRABBE
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
AMHERST - The teachers union voted Monday to agree to concessions that will moderate their salary increases next year, but only if voters approve a tax-cap override March 23.
While the Regional School Committee chairman called the agreement "shared sacrifice," a leader of the group opposing the $1.68 million override called it "a public relations gimmick."
The 380 teachers in the Amherst Pelham Education Association did not give back any of the salary increases their contract entitles them to. They will receive 3 percent cost-of-living increases and about half of them will also get 4 percent "step" raises next year.
Instead, they agreed to turn three "professional days" a year into unpaid furloughs.
If the override passes, this concession would trim about $1,000 from the salary of each teacher next year, said Tim Sheehan, the union president. This would be the equivalent in dollars of giving back about half the cost-of-living raises, he said.
The teachers agreed to the concessions, which were negotiated with administrators and School Committee members, because they were worried about the impact of budget cuts, Sheehan said.
"Because the staff work with children, we can see exactly what the result of this magnitude of budget cuts would be, cuts that would make the schools unrecognizable," he said. "We're willing to do our part."
The anticipated cost of pay increases for employees in the Amherst and Pelham elementary and secondary schools next year was $1.3 million. If this concession takes effect, that cost would be reduced by about $350,000, said Farshid Hajir, chairman of the Regional School Committee.
"We appreciate the spirit of cooperation and shared sacrifice the teachers have shown," he said. "In these times of uncertainty and economic pain, the teachers have done their part in helping the school committees narrow the budget gap. They've shown that they have the best interests of the district in mind."
A similar ratification vote will be held today by the union representing school clerical employees, with a potential budget impact of $20,000.
Sheehan said the union made the concessions contingent on passage of the override because "it didn't seem fair for us to be the only ones doing something." The message is that "we're willing to go ahead and do this and we hope voters are willing to do the same," he said.
The vote Monday to ratify the agreement was not close and there was no debate, Sheehan said. Some teachers who voted against it said they felt "disrespected," he said.
On "professional days," teachers typically score exams and attend workshops for their professional development, Sheehan said. If they are no longer paid for these days, they will have to spend more unpaid time on these activities, he said.
The union agreed to this concession instead of smaller cost-of-living increases because of the pension system, Sheehan said. A teacher's pension is calculated based on the three highest salary years, usually the last three, and a salary concession would have negatively affected those retiring in the next three years, he said.
The agreement was the outcome of about 10 hours of meetings with school administrators and School Committee members, Sheehan said. It was not affected by the departure of former Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez, he said. The School Committee was represented at the meetings by Hajir and members Irv Rhodes and Steve Rivkin.
Override opponent Stanley Gawle said the teachers' concessions are not comparable to the ones agreed to by the fire and police unions. Those were "timely and commendable" because they were announced before Feb. 12, and thus enabled the Select Board to reduce the size of the override, he said.
The teachers have known about the fiscal crisis since October, and could have acted similarly, he said.
"This last-minute gesture isn't a giveback at all," he said. "It's a public relations gimmick designed to get taxpayers to vote for the override. The illusion may also be intended to distract taxpayers from the whopping 3 to 7 percent raises teachers are due to receive next year."
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.