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Talks Between Town, Teachers Stalled

March 18, 2010 by Josh Morgan

The Cheshire Education Association, which represents more than 400 educators in the district, stated last week that negotiations between itself and the Town of Cheshire have been put on hold, after an offer of what has been called a “zero-interest loan” was turned down by Town officials.
According to Judy Masella, vice president of the local union, representatives offered the Town three promissory days – days that teachers would work for free this year – with the expectation that teachers would be paid back in five years, without interest. The offer, which would have resulted in approximately $461,000 in savings for this budget year, never went any further than back room discussions between the union, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Greg Florio, Board of Education Chairman Gerald Brittingham, and Town Council Chairman Tim Slocum, Masella said.
"The teachers were looking for a way to help out, but (Town officials) wanted us to reopen the contract," Masella explained last week. "The entire thing was just dismissed and no further discussion took place. They said it was not what they were looking for."
Slocum said that more than a year ago, before he even became Council chairman, he was part of the discussions with the union about reworking its current contract, which includes an average salary increase of 4.4 percent for teachers. At that time, there were no offers made, just a discussion on the current economic situation and a verbal agreement between both parties that they would confer again.
"Their original offer was for a few thousand dollars and we wanted something more conclusive than that," Slocum said, in regards to the promissory days offer. "We wanted a shared sacrifice."
Slocum stated that the Town's financial problems look to get even worse next year, when the stimulus money runs out and the Town is still forced to deal with increased salaries and insurance costs.
Slocum charged that, while the teachers’ offer "had the flavor" of a furlough day, in which an employee is not paid, it would have included the mandatory payback requirement.
"That just wasn't going to work. We couldn't burden future Boards and Councils with that," Slocum said. "With all due respect to the union, I felt they gave a genuine effort, I just don't think they dug deep enough into their pockets."
According to Masella, the teachers were "very disheartened and shocked" that the offer was rejected outright. She said the idea of promissory days came about after discussions with the Connecticut Education Association and, even though not every teacher agreed with the idea, "most of the teachers" were on board.
"We were willing to help out, but most teachers didn't want the whole (contract) renegotiated again," Masella said. "We were shocked that the offer about giving up pay and not being paid back for five years without interest was dismissed. We were shocked that they left so much money on the table."
Slocum responded by saying "the effort on their part is laudable, but it isn't sellable."
Brittingham echoed those sentiments earlier this week and stated that, in fact, there had been a counteroffer on the table, which the union did not find favorable. The offer, according to Brittingham, was to spread out one year's increase over the next two years, and remove the final year's increase, an offer that was rejected.
"Their offer was predicated on deferments. There are no deferments. They can't contribute and it's ludicrous," Brittingham said. "We need their help and deferments are not concessions. Deferments are not realistic. I am still hopeful that reality will dawn on the union's leadership."
In February, the Board voted to cut $950,000 off of Florio's recommended budget, which called for a 3.86 percent increase in spending. Union President Beverly Jurkiewicz said that, based on "past history," the Town Council could be expected to cut the education budget even further. She admitted that, after the offer from the teachers was rejected, "it's a tougher sell now" to union members and, if further cuts are made, additional staff reductions could result.
"The teachers weren't even given a chance to tweak (the offer) a little bit," Jurkiewicz said. "That wasn't an option."
From the start, Jurkiewicz said that the teachers were willing "to do certain things" but reiterated Massela's point that opening up the contract was never an option. The union's legal counsel advised against opening the contract and she said they intend to "follow that advice." For now, Jurkiewicz said the teachers would "wait and see" what the Council does to the budget.
"We are willing to help out and look into Health Savings Accounts for employees," she said. "I don't think anything is too late, but we're not ready to discuss anything more right now."
Masella, who has a business background, commented that, in her experience, negotiations take place between two parties who agree to talk about different proposals, and that one side usually "does not dismiss" what the other party has offered and "refuse to look at it." She believes that way of thinking doesn't solve any problems, and the recent actions by some Town representatives have lead her to believe that there could be some ulterior motives at play.
"It makes me wonder if there really is a problem, or is that what some people really want? Do they just want to slam unions and the teacher's union in general and try to take out their political viewpoints on the local schools?" Masella questioned. "I believe that people are being belligerent based on their politics and not being rational."
However, Slocum stated his belief that the promissory days was the teachers’ “best offer,” and that he was led to believe that another offer was out of the question.
He remarked that “unfortunately” the union's unwillingness to dig a little bit deeper could affect its membership.
He said the argument that the students will suffer as a result of Council action is a "hollow argument" and the fact is, "it's a different reality now."
"I didn't tell them what to do, that's not my place, but I don't think it was a sacrifice at all," Slocum said. "The fact is, it was a bad contract. I knew it then and I know it now and, unfortunately, their membership will suffer."

Comments

Budget Cuts

March 19, 2010 by aic12271993, 4 years 5 weeks ago
Comment: 130

You have to realize that the Federal government subsidized the educational budget of Cheshire by 2-3 million dollars. Now that has been cut the taxpayers of Cheshire will finally realize what a bargain that they have been getting. The raises were held from Waterbury because of poor politician and bad decision making.

The teachers union were in discussion to offer promissory days in which they will work free and will be paid back in five years without interest. The offer was $461,000 but the Board of Education said that, that was not enough and walked away. Now you have to realize that some teachers live in different towns and have to pay taxes there, along with the increases they are incurring. Besides that they also help us (students) with our clubs, sports, letters of recommendation, extra help, etc.

A good example of this is the guidance department. Because of the last year budget cuts, they did not replace a Guidance Counselor that retired. Now the guidance counselor don't have a lot of time to connect with their students and know what they are doing in school like their extracurricular activities.

You have to realize that these budget cuts will cut teachers resulting in losing teachers. Losing teachers means increasing the sizes of the classes. This means that the teachers will have less time to give extra help to their students and give less attention to each since they will have so many students to pay attention to. That would result in falling grades of your children.

You have to realize that teachers are not greedy, it was the last administration that agreed to this contract not this one. They have families to care for. They have taxes to pay in other towns. They have to deal with students in classes. They have to help us with clubs. They have to help us with our homework. Our teachers are dedicated and hardworking and that is why so many families move here. This school system is fantastic! The Town Charter requires the town to provide the best education to the students. Then why is the Board of Education making cuts. This has to stop. We cannot afford this and WE should not blame teachers for this since they already have a lot to worry about. Budget cuts must stop. This cannot go on. This is affecting our education. We are one of the towns who spends about $1500 less on each student than other schools. We do not waste money but we actually receive less money. Due to our great superintendent, we have a fantastic school system. People move to this town because of the education system, so lets keep it that way.

Put the Brakes on Now

March 18, 2010 by Michelle317, 4 years 5 weeks ago
Comment: 128

Is it really so hard for teachers to understand that there needs to be some give on their part? Yes, you did sign a contract which "guarantees" your 13.2% increase over 3 years. Yes, the majority of you work hard. Yes, I know you work after hours to do the job right. I get it...but you know what, so do so many others in the private sector. They have to in order to stay competitive and retain their employment. And they do it for a lot less benefits. It is time to give back a little to retain your younger colleagues. I know the town approved your contract in 2008, but that was then and now is now. Look at the teachers in Waterbury who did not receive raises for over 5 years.

We always hear the cry it's for the kids, but let's face it, the bulk of the education budget will go to increasing salaries and health benefits that most private workers will never see the likes of in the near future. I don't begrudge the kids a good education, but the system as we know it is broken.Automatic 4.4% percent yearly raises in this economic climate are too rich for taxpayers to keep up with. Most people are lucky to be getting paid what they received 2 years ago...if they even still have a job. We need teachers raises to be based on merit and job performance, period. How else can we weed the excellent performers from the mediocre ones?
I know some of you residents crying for increased education spending moved here for the great school system right?However, many of you will move right out of town after you are done putting your kids through school thus leaving the tax burden on the older residents. Please think of them, they are the people who made this town what it is.

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