MEA contract disputes focused on teacher absenteeism, benefits, salary steps

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From left, school committee negotiation team members Kate Derochers, Jimmy Lehoux, Rich Girard and Sarah Ambrogi, field questions from the board during a special BOSC meeting on April 22, 2019. MPTV

MANCHESTER, NH – Members of the BOSC contract negotiation team presented their side of the protracted negotiations process to the full Board during a special public meeting at City Hall on Monday night, followed by questions from fellow board members.

Three board members were absent – Mary Georges of Ward 3, Kelly Thomas of Ward 12, and Ward 7 representative Ross Terrio, who is also a member of the negotiation team.

The content of the presentation, which had been previously released in the board agenda, (see below) is a comprehensive 313-page summary of proposals, statistics and exhaustive documentation prepared by the five-member negotiation team. The goal was to “educate the public” as to the process of negotiations, and why the board has determined they are at impasse with the Manchester Education Association.

Prior to the meeting, Mayor Joyce Craig, who serves as chair of the school committee, said she appreciated efforts on both sides of the negotiation process, and that the true goal was to “move the process forward, not to create more division,” Craig said.

We must remain committed to finding a solution that is fair and equitable for our teachers, students and taxpayers. We all agree that our educators deserve a fair and sustainable contract. I appreciate this board’s work, and especially the time and effort put in by the negotiations committee. I look forward to a productive and forward-thinking discussion this evening,” Craig said. 

And it was a night of unusual unity among board members – for one thing, there was no public comment period, and no counter presentation by the MEA, so the tone of the meeting was reflective of the school board’s efforts – and frustrations – over the breakdown in negotiations, which they lay at the feet of MEA leadership.


Narrative of BOSC/MEA negotiation process presented April 22, 2019:


Negotiation team members took turns providing a narrative of negotiation progress over the past year, which ended up in mediation in February. The committee said working toward resolution became a “math problem” that was difficult to solve to achieve the outcomes requested by MEA. The committee contends that they negotiated in good faith, and the outcome of their work was what they regarded as an equitable solution to sticking points that would have otherwise either exceeded the city’s tax cap or added new costs.

“We entered the mediation session hopeful it would bear fruit. Every member of our team was present along with business administrator Karen DeFrancis to run any numbers we might need on the spot and Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Gillis  to get immediate input from the administration on management items. As you know the mediation was not fruitful.  Without furthering the he-said she-said argument, we were really disappointed that we did not come to agreement at mediation,” said Kate Derochers.

At that time, MEA President Sue Hannan released the following statement:

“MEA has requested to go to mediation regarding negotiations of salary.  Both sides have moved significantly toward finding a salary increase that would be mutually beneficial. MEA came in with many attempts to meet the Board at their numbers. We all agreed that we needed to find a proposal that would be ratifiable by both sides, but we could not. While progress was made, the tax cap and competing educational needs was the problem moving forward. MEA views the input of a mediator a smart and needed step so that the teams could hopefully proceed. At all times, MEA continues to desire a successor contract that respects and honors the work that Manchester Educators do every day to educate Manchester Public School students.”

The next mediation session was set for March 21, however it was canceled when the mediator was ill and could not attend. At the time of the planned meeting, the MEA requested to go forward with that meeting, sans mediator, but the team declined and requested a rescheduled meeting with a mediator, citing  MEA’s prior request in February for third-party intervention to reach an agreement.

“We have told the MEA that we will gladly resume negotiations if they believe there has been a change in circumstances that now leads them to believe they can move forward despite their declaration of impasse,” Girard said in a statement released on March 21.

Hannan responded to that comment, noting that the request for mediation was an attempt to move forward, and not a lack of confidence in the school committee’s ability to negotiate,  saying, “We expressed our reservations about the compensation package. We informed the Board of the inability to ratify their proposals. We are not at impasse… Asking for mediation is a positive step toward finding a middle ground and introducing creative solutions to consider.”

Following Monday night’s presentation several board members had follow-up questions specific to salary and sick time, and “chronic absenteeism” among teachers.

In advance of Monday’s meeting, Hannan submitted a lengthy statement to the press, countering some of the content of the committee’s anticipated presentation.  You can read that in full here.

Hannan said she objected to the “one-sided” presentation, and said that the MEA had previously suggested each side make presentations to each other’s group –  MEA presenting to the full Board, and the negotiation team presenting to MEA members. “It would bring about understanding, and guard against one-sided views brought to the groups,” wrote Hannan.

Following Monday night’s meeting, Hannan reiterated that “the Board did offer to present their proposal to our members. We also offered to present our information to the full Board if they presented to our members. As you can see it didn’t happen,” Hannan said.

When asked by the InkLink what is the next step forward, Hannan said, “The next step is not really mine. The Board has declared impasse. We invite them back to the table to keep going, but it will be up to them. I understand that the presentation was their perception of the truth. Our perception of the truth is somewhat different, but everyone’s reality is that this is affecting our students and our educators.”

 

About Carol Robidoux 6207 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!