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District Defends Contract Proposal

Northport superintendent emphasizes respect for teachers and urges both sides to work together and move forward at Feb. 6 BOE meeting.

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.”

Nick Folger February 08, 2012 at 06:34 PM
"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." Is Waldenburg implying that "current economic factors" are dire? If so then, why is the school district proposing to increase the budget for 2012-2013 year when they chronically and significantly underspend it? Seems a bit inconsistent to me. Don't "current economic factors" apply to the budget planning too? Or is just conveniently used as an excuse with respect to the teachers’ contract? Which is it? Moreover, the district has been hoarding money for years. I don't blame the membership for voting down the contract. Until the district shows plans, other than hoarding, for the realities of the current economic times, like planning, not waiting, for the inevitable decrease in the LIPA's reassessment, I wouldn't not trust any contract deal they propose. Further, it seems to me that the only planning the district intends to do is let everyone in the community absorb the LIPA hit. That sounds like greed. G** help us and our children, because I have no faith in Albany to do so.
clearvision February 09, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Waldenberg is right! In these economically challenging times, when many are losing their jobs or experiencing pay and benefit reductions, the best way to avoid teacher layoffs is for teachers to recognize that they will have to get used to less. With the 2% tax cap and the impending LIPA subsidy to the district, it seems that this approach is necessary to avoid or at least reduce teacher layoffs in the future. I believe the board has planned responsibly for the long term. The proposed teacher contract is a step in the right direction in that it deviates from the largesse of the past and puts the district in a more stable financial position in the coming years. Many high quality surrounding districts have had to lay off teachers ( some of whom had significant seniority) in part due to their overly generous teacher contracts.
Concerned Citizen February 09, 2012 at 04:38 PM
@ Nick What do you expect would happen if / when the LIPA certiorari passes and the district's reserves and fund balance was already depleted? The hoarding you are upset about today just might be the saving of your educational program in the future, as the tax cap takes its toll over time and the certiorari is realized. I cannot speak to the teachers' feeling disrespected as I do not know all the details of what occurs during the school day, but contrary to common opinion, contracts with above the marketplace salary increases do not indicate respect. Check out the increases to the TRS over the last number of years and the number or teachers that reached their 10th anniversary as a teacher that will never again make a contribution to their own retirement. Look, if that was the deal they signed on for then fine; I will not look at their good fortune next to mine with resentment. But when teachers whine and talk about respect in association with contracts... It make me angry. They would be a lot closer to achieving their goals if they took off the black shirts and kept their collective mouth shut.
clearvision February 09, 2012 at 05:31 PM
I agree. In this economy, they should be ecstatic that they are keeping their jobs. Plus, they are getting a raise on top of that? They should be celebrating! Instead they are whining and wearing black shirts! The largesse of yesteryear is over. I guess for some that equates with "disrespect" and reduces their morale. Welcome to the real world!
Irishdave February 09, 2012 at 08:25 PM
I wonder what Administrators are receiving in the way of pay and benefits? How many of the Administrators are losing their jobs? Many Administrators may lose their position but will still have a job by bumping out a teacher (and they keep much of their salary).
Goin' Commando February 10, 2012 at 01:03 AM
I keep waiting for the day that teachers, AND administrators, join the rest of us in making true economic sacrifices for the sake of our students. But, arrogance seems to be ruling the day among the "leadership" of UTN.
Free 2B Me February 10, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Gross said the district had asked that UTN President Antoinette Blanck return to part-time teaching duties but that request “fell by the wayside.” Pay attention to the quote I copied above... the Union President is paid by tax dollars to NOT teach.
Goin' Commando February 10, 2012 at 02:48 AM
That is @#%&8'n mind boggling. Do any of the other districts around Northport pay a teacher to do union duties, either full time or half time or whatever? If a teacher is receiving a salary from the district and its taxpayers, then he or she should be TEACHING! Does anyone have no problems with this arrangement?
Irishdave February 10, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Many districts across the nation do pay union leaders. It is a part of 'Professional improvement' the Unions work with the districts, believe it or not , standing up for teachers' pay and rights is not the only thing they do. Just what is TEACHING anyway? Do you know?
clearvision February 10, 2012 at 03:19 AM
I agree! The UTN president should be payed by the union members not the taxpayers! This is an incredible insult to the community. If she wants a teachers salary, she should teach, not represent the union on the backs of the taxpayers!
clearvision February 10, 2012 at 04:03 AM
Yes! Do you? In 2012 it is unlikely that most taxpayers would continue to support this archaic practice. This position should be the first to be cut!
Concerned Citizen February 10, 2012 at 04:15 AM
IrishDave... I do not know what angry teacher you may be talking to, but I could tell you that NO teacher is losing a job in order to keep an unnecessary administrator. That does not happen, except in the mind of a obtuse member of a teachers' union.
Concerned Citizen February 10, 2012 at 04:22 AM
Glad you focused on that free2... The greatest insult of all are the local union leaders who make salary, benefits, and retire on the dime of the taxpayer, yet they spend little or NO time in the classroom teaching kids. The taxpayer pays them to lobby against the taxpayer. It is a maddening paradoxi!!! It does not only happen in Northport, it happens everywhere. But just because it is pervasive in NYS school districts doe not make it right.
Concerned Citizen February 10, 2012 at 04:24 AM
IT is the greatest insult to the taxpayer. I am surprised it does not get more attention in the media. But do NOT think it is a problem in Northport... It is everywhere!!!!
Concerned Citizen February 10, 2012 at 04:29 AM
What is teaching anyway??? why don't you enlighten us Irishdave... I will tell you what teaching is supposed to be... It is to bring cognitive skills to the next generation of Americans. Something that the youth of America will thrive on and florish. Unfortunately, unions protect and promote mediocrity, and they do so on the taxpayers dime. Unfortunately, NYSUT does nothing for great educators except group them with do nothings that are on a free ride sponsored by taxpayers.
Jerry Hannon February 10, 2012 at 04:37 AM
As to the question about what other districts in TOH do, I do know that in Elwood we have the teachers union head teaching (I think this is correct) on a half-time basis. Now, that's better than what Northport is doing, but, still it seems inequitable for the taxpayers to be paying half of the salary for union duties. That should come from union dues, not the taxpayers. Many of us do a lot of volunteer work in our school districts, and if the union head doesn't want to charge other union members for working for them, then he or she can do the head of the teachers union work on a volunteer basis.
Free 2B Me February 10, 2012 at 11:53 AM
Hmmmm, I wonder what the APPR will look like for a teacher who does not teach? Is there a standardized test for contract negotiations and labor claims?
Irishdave February 10, 2012 at 12:52 PM
"It is to bring cognitive skills to the next generation of Americans. Something that the youth of America will thrive on and flourish." I do ask if 'Joe' taxpayer knows how they do it? do you mean; processing information, knowledge and mental skills how about some manipulative, manual or physical skills? Now does a teacher just walk in the school and *poof* start teaching the children? No, there are inservices to attend, Lesion plans to write, No Child Left Behind to contend with, Professional growth, college classes to take, IEPs, after school activities to supervise, parent/teacher conferences, discipline issues, grading the students' work at home and that is all outside the classroom! Then they are evaluated on how the students perform on a test made by someone in an Ivory Tower. If you have a student who is off task it is the teacher's fault! As far as the union president being paid by the district, I have wondered why myself but it was done in every district I taught in. but the president was active with teacher improvement, You never hear about the good things the union does but let one teacher (good or bad) get in trouble and if the union makes sure due process is followed ,excrement contacts the air moving device. Believe it or not Teachers do want to weed out "Bad" teachers. I will stop playing the sad violin for now (which I learned play in Northport schools)
Irishdave February 10, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Lets say we have 100 teachers and 10 Administrators If 10 teachers are laid off shouldn't an Administrator be laid off? or if the teachers have a 2% cut in pay will the Administrators be cut 2% also? Just wondering
Free 2B Me February 10, 2012 at 02:50 PM
@ Irishdave, you suggest that Union Presidents are paid by tax dollars not to teach in connection with a Teacher Improvement Plan (a TIP). Than what about the money paid to teachers to be department heads, stipends for lead teachers, Principals, Assistant Principals, heads of curriculum, stipends for curriculum writing, etc? Is the professional improvement that you profess the coordination of black shirts and nailing down the LIFO list? Is the union president skilled in all aspects of k-12 education? Is the union president certified in special ed, math, reading, science, LOTE, phys ed, music, art, and library skills? It makes me wonder if paying a union president with tax dollars and not union dues is even legal.
Concerned Citizen February 10, 2012 at 03:06 PM
I do not think that anyone has said that the task at hand for every educator is not a difficult task. In dealing with children in various stages of cognitive and emotional development (general Ed and special Ed) there are many challenges, and teaching is most certainly an honorable profession. However, to work through the challenges and succeed IS the reason teachers get paid! It is their job to overcome the challenges and succeed. The fact that there will be a metric or rubric to partially quantify that success is long overdue and teachers should stop pushing back so hard.
Concerned Citizen February 10, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Let’s not just look at Joe Taxpayer; let’s also look at Jane Teacher – Has been working for about 10 years, has a salary of $90k, family medical and dental insurance. Worth about $18k per year and contributes $3,600 – has life insurance, long-term disability – defined benefit retirement that she no longer contributes to (was only 3% of salary for the first 10 yrs.) A taxpayer contribution to her retirement next year is $11,250, or 12.5% of her salary. Leaves work at the end of June and spends a minimal amount of time, if any, thinking and preparing for her whole new crop of students that she starts fresh with in September. No email, or phone calls to return. Her desk is not filled with issues that occurred while she was on vacation (which is pretty much the norm outside of academia) And, let’s not forget a generous amount of sick and personal days that accumulate, and if not used by the time she retires can be cashed out (not all, but at least 1 day for every 3 or 4 accumulated) at the final rate of pay, which can be much higher than the rate of pay when the day was “banked”… Let’s see: $90,000 + ($18,000-$3,600) + $11,250 = $115,650. And as soon as someone uses the accountability word the union gets up in arms!!!
Concerned Citizen February 10, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Look, I do not like teacher bashing and to diminish the role teachers play for our children, our future, our economy is simply wrong. It is a tough job if you do it well and that must be respected. BUT teachers need to suck it up and realize that they have a gig on the taxpayers' dime that is pretty outstanding and when the taxpayer is looking for a little accountability to assure we weed out the bad ones so we can continue to pay the good ones without much hesitation, every teacher and their union should welcome the chance to be evaluated based on student performance so they can prove to the world that they are good, or great, at what they do. And, until NYSUT goes along with the APPR, I am going to stay with my belief that the union fosters mediocrity.
Jerry Hannon February 10, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Now, that is mind-boggling. Proportional cuts, or proportional increases, could only make sense (and I question the premise, regardless) if the manning level (i.e, fully staffed, or some reduction from 100%) was the same for teachers and administrators. I'd give 10 to 1 odds against that in 99% of districts. It also gets absurd when you consider that some administrators are unique in their positions, e.g. one superintendent, one principal for Podunk High School, one principal for Podunk Middle School, one assistant superintendent for business, one director of special education, and on and on and on. How in the name of Arne Duncan can you "proportionally" reduce those people? I'm afraid that's just posturing on the part of people who primarily have an interest in protecting the economic benefits of members of the teachers union.
East N'ptr February 10, 2012 at 07:52 PM
There is not one union leader in surrounding districts, OTHER THAN NORTHPORT, that does not have teaching responsibilities in addition to their union business. Elwood, Harborfields, Commack, Half Hollow Hills, Huntington...their contracts requires the union president to spend some % of their time teaching. I agree Commando, it's outrageous! I bet Cuomo would be in support of legislation that made it a requirement for union leaders salaries to be paid through union dues!
John T February 10, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Is anyone else sick and tired of hearing teachers complain about their jobs. They should be working at least 2-3 weeks a year more with the same pay.

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