In response to Union President Antoinette Blanck’s statement posted on UTN’s website on Jan. 25, Northport Superintendent Marylou McDermott emphasized her respect for teachers at the Feb. 6 BOE meeting after union members for a three-year contract. Teachers have been working without a contract since July 2010.
“I thought the very best way to show respect for teachers was to maintain every position,” she said, adding that class size has also been reduced. McDermott cited several other school districts that have had to cut teachers, many of whom have 15 years of experience.
McDermott responded to several other points in Blanck’s statement. The APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) that was posted on the district’s website was a rubric, she explained, not an individual’s APPR. It was taken down immediately at Blanck’s request since the requirements of the review process were part of the negotiation discussions.
McDermott refuted the claim that the Board has not been involved in the negotiation discussions, saying that they have played “an appropriate role.” And as for the claim that employees have been denied requests for a union rep to be present at meetings, McDermott said that was also untrue. However, she clarified that any discussion that takes place is really between the principal and the employee, although the rep can provide guidance.
“We have got to move forward together,” McDermott urged, listing a number of economic challenges the district faces, including the possible loss of $47 million if LIPA is successful in its request for a 90 percent reduction in taxes. “That would decimate our district,” she said, adding that Senator Carl Marcellino has proposed Senate Bill 5872, which would provide a structured settlement over a period of ten years in the event of a successful certiorari.
The district met with administrators in the past two weeks. McDermott said they were urged to go out to their staff members for feedback. “Tell us where you need the help and professional development and we will provide it.”
District counsel John Gross of Ingerman Smith detailed the process that led to the failed MOA, including 24 bargaining sessions. After several meetings in December, the UTN’s negotiating team agreed to the MOA, which called for no salary or step increase in the first year, 2010-2011, with a 1 percent increase and half a step in the second year, and a .5 percent and the remaining half step in the final year. In between execution and rejection, Gross said the district was informed that the entire Executive Committee of the UTN had approved it. However, members voted it down by a nearly two-to-one margin on Jan. 24.
In his presentation, Gross said that Northport teachers aren’t at the top or the bottom of the pay scale, but “somewhat above the average” for teachers in neighboring districts. He said the deal would have equated to $2,680,261, or a 5.09 percent increase for teachers over the three years – without adding any additional responsibilities or givebacks. The district honored the negotiating team’s request for additional compensation for teaching assistants in the amount of $225.
Gross said the district had asked that UTN President Antoinette Blanck return to part-time teaching duties but that request “fell by the wayside.”
The next step in the process is to go to fact-finding. Gross said that PERB (Public Employment Relations Board) had been informed of the MOA rejection.
Comments from the public were varied. East Northport resident Albert Prisco opined that the union was frustrated with its leadership because of the sunset clause in the contract which requires that terms expire with the end of a contract until a new agreement is negotiated. Board President Stephen Waldenburg said that the sunset clause was negotiated years ago, and that it wasn’t fair to blame the current union leadership.
Resident Joanne Loring expressed disappointment at the lack of a contract. “I’m saddened that the Board is attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the teachers,” she said, requesting a budget that is “fiscally responsible in the longterm.” Waldenburg said he appreciated her concern.
Resident Kathleen Fristensky asked Waldenburg for his opinion as to why teacher morale was so low.
“I don’t get the same impression that morale is in the mud,” Waldenburg replied, drawing groans from the audience which was packed with union members dressed in black.
Waldenburg said some of the pay increases in the past “wouldn’t fly” in the face of current economic factors and rhetorically asked if it would be better to take less so that all teachers could keep their jobs.
Another resident who has four children and is thinking of moving to North Carolina took teachers to task. “I wish I could make one percent more than last year,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have a pension and has to pay his own insurance. “Give me a freaking break. I don’t wear black or go to my clients asking for more money.”