November 11, 2004

Teacher Contracts

Marc Comtois

After 20 months of fruitless contract negotiations, the School Committee and the Warwick Teachers Union are about to put the dispute to arbitration hearings -- but now they can't even agree on when to meet to frame out a schedule for the proceedings.
So begins the latest report on the latest chapter in the Warwick Teacher Contract dispute. (I've written more extensively about the Warwick teacher dispute here). The union clearly seems disinterested in engaging in talks and has continually thrown up excuse after excuse to delay the arbitration hearing.
The union has also filed a motion to have the arbitration proceedings cover only last year and this year. The School Committee wants to extend its scope forward a few years.

Committee Chairwoman Joyce L. Andrade called the union's request "absolutely ridiculous."

"Who the heck wants to go through this again next summer and start all over again? I don't know what they could possibly be thinking," Andrade said. "We need to get this contract settled long term. Why on earth they would want to put those type limitations on it is beyond me."
The only reason I can think of is that the current situation is seen by the teachers as "better" than any new contract that could be negotiated. Right now, they have the best of both worlds: an old-style contract with no real health care co-pay and no obligation to help in after-school or extra-curricular activities. What is their incentive to change? More work for "less" pay and fewer benefits?

Meanwhile, the recent display in East Greenwich in which students marched to a School Committee meeting to express their displeasure over the current "Work-to-Rule" situation in the district strikes me as sending the wrong message.
They were met at the school by applauding teachers and parents. Many of the parents belong to the six local parent-teacher organizations that had organized the demonstration.

"We don't want to take sides on this issue, but we wanted to let the School Committee know that we are very concerned about the welfare of our kids," Lillian DePietro, president of the Hanaford School PTO, said after the meeting.

She said one of the main concerns is that, with teachers working to rule in the absence of a new agreement, students are missing out on many activities as well as the extra help they used to get before and after school.

Only a few of those in the crowd addressed the school board. Patty Streich, co-president of the PTG at East Greenwich High School, urged school officials and union leaders to continue to "work diligently" for a contract settlement.

"We ask both sides to remember what you represent," she said, citing examples of many of activities and services students have to do without as long as teachers are working to rule.
Though ostensibly meant to be a "criticism" of both sides, WPRO's Dan Yorke pointed out that by going to a School meeting, the message sent clearly seems to put the onus on the board to resolve the situation moreso than on the teachers. And the fact that parents AND TEACHERS applauded the students certainly lends credence to his point. One idea expressed on his show, though unlikely to happen, would convey a true sense of "bipartisan" criticism on the part of the students. Why don't they next march on a Teachers Union meeting? Finally, Yorke had the head of the East Greenwich PTO call him in and she stated (and I'm paraphrasing) "All of us think that the Teachers should have to have a Health Insurance co-pay..." This, Yorke concluded, should have ended any argument that the parents and students had with the board. It is not the board that is categorically denying this provision, after all.
School Committee members did not respond directly to speakers' comments. But after the crowd left, the board distributed a statement prepared by their labor lawyer, Richard Ackerman.

Reiterating points the board made in a statement issued earlier this month, Ackerman said that the School Department is facing tough financial times and that teachers have not agreed to pick up enough of the cost of their health insurance premiums.

So far, the union has only agreed to about a 2 percent contribution, the statement said, but the School Committee does not consider anything less than 10 percent "meaningful."

Roger Ferland, president of the teachers union -- The East Greenwich Education Association -- has said that many of the details being released by the school officials are being taken out of context but that the union does not want to get into a point-by-point rebuttal because it does not want to negotiate in public.
I find it hard to understand how the basic numbers concerning the health care premiums could be "taken out of context." It sounds to me like the union doesn't want to "negotiate in public" because they know they would probably lose that P.R. battle.

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I am a conservative southern transplant living in EG. I move here from Georgia about a year ago and I love this area. The politics, however, are very different.

I support high standards and expectations within the school system as I'm sure any reader of this site would. I also want the EG schools to shine especially bright as property values are tied closely to the quality of the school system. As a matter of fact, I subjected myself to the Taxes charged by the town willingly with the expectation that the schools would justify this expense.

However, I don't really know the real issues here. If I were to put myself in the position of mediator for this dispute, I would want to know:

1) What is the total compensation (pay + benefits) package for an EG teacher worth annually by line item?
2) What is the median compensation for the average (non-commision based?) resident in EG?
3) How many work days are required of teachers vs other EG residents?
4) What level of coverage do the benefits provide vs other EG residents on average?
5) How does each line item of the teachers entire compensation package maintains pace with inflation year-over-year?

I believe if our teachers are being treated unfairly, these questions would be the start to assist residents in understanding why we should allow further redistribution of our income. Obviously the school board must be able to make its case if an increase in taxes is required.

Or do I just not understand the issues at all?


Posted by: Richard at November 12, 2004 4:31 PM

I wish you would spend you time dealing with facts.
Work to rule doesn't mean teachers are not doing their job. It simply means that teachers are not giving up their free time. For example: the teacher contract does not require chaperoning dances, writing letters of recommendation, sponsoring class trips, etc. Teachers have "donated" so much free time that people like you expect it.
Tell me what other job besides teaching expects the employees to solve the problems of the world like:
kids don't get a good breakfast so have the schools provide it,
kids are drinking at home so let the schools teach them why drinking is bad, Kids need a place to go on Friday nights so the schools must have dances, etc.
Why don't you list all the FREE jobs you did that had nothing to do with your job

Posted by: CL at May 27, 2005 10:19 AM

Thanks for the comment. I've taken it and expanded my reply into a post.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at May 27, 2005 8:13 PM