Union agrees to givebacks to save five teaching jobs

Two year contract contains step free

One year freeze saves five jobs

 

By Matthew Rice

 

The Granville Teachers Association agreed to a new contract with a Wednesday night April 6 vote, a move which will save five teaching jobs in the high school.

The contract was approved by the Granville Board of Education at its April 11 meeting. With the new contract approved by the teachers Granville Teachers Association President Lynn Wilbur, board President Kathy Nelson, Superintendent Mark Bessen and Business Manager Cathy Somich sat down to talk about what effect the agreement will have on the tentative budget which called for the elimination of 13 teaching positions and 15 support staff positions as well as a 2 percent tax increase and use of about $1 million in fund balance.

“We have an agreement and the teachers have agreed to a freeze,” Wilbur said. Wilbur said the agreement passed by “a wide margin.”

“I am just amazed at my colleagues. It was a really generous thing to do, giving of yourself to give to others and that’s what they’re doing. By law we could have had that (raise) but we give it away so that our children are taken care of, that’s what we’re here for,” Wilbur said.

The freeze in step raises for teachers was included in the new GTA contract which covers the current year and next.

For the second year of the contract the teacher will not receive scheduled step raise pay increases as a part of the agreement which covers the 2011-2012 school budget.

“That will allow the kids to get all of the programs they need and it will save the community from additional unemployed people that our community doesn’t need any more of,” Wilbur said.

About one third of all of the 134 teachers in the union live in Granville, Wilbur said.

Nelson said she was impressed with what the teachers have done for all of those affected by the school system.

“I’m so thankful and impressed with our teachers; so many times they get ‘dissed’ in the community. I think everyone who sees them in the community should shake their hands and thank them. I don’t think there is any greater character trait then being willing to give up your rights because you’re caring for someone else and they cared enough about their colleagues and the students to give up what could have been theirs because they cared so that’s just tremendous, that’s just great,” Nelson said.

The superintendent also lauded the agreement and the union.

“They were very giving. If you look at what other contracts and what the concessions were, these guys gave a full year concession, not a half,” Bessen said.

“Sometimes it feels like everyone is out for number one, it’s refreshing to see people putting others ahead of themselves,” Nelson said.

In terms of dollars and cents the frozen pay scale for the GTA and other concessions saves nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

“It’s like $170,000 when you add in FICA and retirement,” Somich said.

Wilbur said the freeze, along with an agreement to pay for a larger portion of health insurance costs produced a savings in excess of $200,000 which officials said will save five teaching jobs.

The health insurance concession alone saved one teaching position, officials said.

“It was a joint agreement with the board that in addition to our freeze the board agreed to go and find some more money to save those positions. It’s definitely a joint effort,” Wilbur said.

Nelson and Bessen said they had spent nearly three hours combing through the budget the previous day looking for additional monies to meet the agreement.

Unlike other freezes reported around the region, the GTA has agreed to a freeze for one full year.

“We just extended our contract, after we’d been without a contract for a year, and so now we’re going into a full (step) freeze – that’s as far into the future as we have dared look,” Wilbur said.

Both sides said the uncertainty of the state aid situation prolonged the negotiation period.  

In September, the union and the board reported being close to a solution, but that was before governor Andrew Cuomo announced a massive $1.5 billion cut to education aid in February. Granville found out it was losing nearly $1 million in the coming fiscal year brining education cuts to $1.7 million over two years.

Both sides said they hope the coming months brings some kind of positive news regarding education funding, even if it is only a realization in Albany what impact the cuts have had in rural school districts.

 Bessen said he thinks part of the reason the governor did not see as much opposition to his proposed cuts was a combination of a non-election year for the senate and assembly and the post-election ‘honeymoon’ period enjoyed by recently elected officials such as the governor.

School officials said they expect to see more “pushback” against the governor in the future, but also, given the amount of time until the next budget cycle, a break in the action to allow education advocates explaining the impact of the cuts on the neediest school districts like Granville.

“How they distributed the money just was not fair,” Wilbur said referring to the restored aid included in the budget. “Hopefully, they’re looking at this and saying ‘wow, we really did this improperly’.”

“If there is some realistic thinking done in Albany and they give us the funding that’s appropriate for our schools, then next year we’ll be able to maintain programs that the teachers have saved and maintain the quality of education here in Granville,” Bessen said.

“We’re really hoping that they’re going to come to their senses in an election year,” Wilbur said.

Both sides said they plan to take a break from negotiations before starting back up around January 2012 with hopefully a better idea of the state and school district’s financial position.

“Next year we’ll have a better idea of the fiscal picture. We’ll be back bargaining, but while we were in these difficult times the teacher’s association found a way to help the kids and the community to help preserve programs,” Bessen said. 

“It’s about being fair and realizing what the revenues are. I mean, these guys did the right thing by the community and we’ll remember that when we have the opportunity to do the right thing by them,” he said.

Bessen said he does not anticipate any other changes to the budget package he will offer to the board April 11. 

“I’m very impressed with everyone in the community who are trying to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to help our kids. I feel very fortunate to be working in this community where everyone’s trying to come together to do the best possible thing in these economic times,” Bessen said.

It was not clear immediately after the agreement was announced which of the 13 teachers who received RIF (reduction in force) notifications would be effected.

 

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