Sara Swanson

Teachers express frustration as school board decides to negotiate teacher contracts through attorney

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Last week, shortly after a Manchester Education Association (EA) meeting, social media was flooded with support for Manchester teachers in the face of stalled contract negotiations with the district. While negotiations have been going on since June, the school board decided after the September board meeting to have the district’s legal counsel, Thrun Law Firm, take over the contract negotiations on behalf of the district. The EA, decided at a meeting the following week to begin speaking publicly about their situation, breaking from what had been their standard practice of silence.

Chief negotiator for the Manchester EA, Jared Throneberry, believes, “The decision for the district to use legal counsel for negotiations in the long run is a good idea, but in the short term gives the impression that the board is not interested in bargaining a contract in good faith. We have now wasted months of negotiations, only to start over and try to get our teachers a fair and fiscally responsible financial package. We would have preferred to settle this contract re-opener and then started fresh for the next round of contract negotiations.”

The current contract with the teachers expires in June 2018. In the current contract, teachers and the district renegotiated the salary schedule to a more balanced set of levels, or steps. Throneberry stated, “We thought the intent of renegotiating the levels was a way to make the district able to budget better for salary changes. The old salary schedule, which had been amended over the course of many years, was wildly inconsistent from level to level. This new schedule eliminated those inconsistencies.”

Throneberry continued, “Since 2011, the district has not granted any of these steps. Teachers who have as many as six years of experience in the district have been ‘frozen’ and have not advanced on the salary schedule and are essentially earning the same amount as when they were hired. Increases have been a series of adjustments to the schedule and off-scale payments. At the same time, insurance costs have increased for the teachers and support staff, as well as retirement costs.”

While the decision by the district to negotiate through their attorney was made in September, the Manchester EA reports that teachers were informed in late August that negotiations would be placed on hold until the 2016-2017 financial audit was completed, which will most likely be in late October. Manchester EA representatives expressed frustration with this, as cost savings gained by repurposing the Middle School, cutting a principal position and the retirement of many teachers last spring, estimated by the union to be at least $300,000, won’t be reflected in this audit.

Additionally, although not reflected by the Manchester EA’s statement, one concern raised on social media, is that instead of being used to advance teachers salaries on the pay scale, the savings from the building consolidation and retirements is being used up in the hiring of new administrators, both as the result of the move of the 7th & 8th graders to the High School and unrelated exits of the superintendent and High School principal in quick succession. Also utilizing social media, teachers are encouraging supporters to attend the School Board meeting tonight, Monday October 2nd, at 6pm in the board room where candidates for a school board vacancy created by exiting board member Dara Psaurothakis will be interviewed.

The district has recently set dates in mid-October to continue negotiations. The teachers and the district are currently working together to see that these talks will continue. Manchester EA stated, “While we are disappointed it has taken this long to schedule another bargaining session, we are hopeful that we can settle a fair salary and focus only on our students and the classroom. It is very distracting to be sitting at the bargaining table during the school year.”

The Mirror asked both the acting superintendent and the school board to comment for this article. Neither the acting superintendent nor the school board chose to comment.

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