July 11, 2011
On behalf of the school committee, and in response to the open letter from NEASK written on June 21, 2011, I would like to take a few moments to share our hopes and aspirations with regard to our negotiations in this current collective bargaining process.
We recognize and acknowledge that we are a high performing district. We recognize and acknowledge that our teachers in SK are among the best and the brightest in the state. We are proud of the many who have achieved national board status, others who have been recognized by state and professional organizations, and all of whom give 100% to their students on a daily basis. We hold our faculty in very high regard for helping our students to become successful learners.
At the June 14, 2011 meeting, the school committee publicly acknowledged that we are in new challenging times of reform as our policy discussions have demonstrated. As you likely heard, there exists a difference of opinion between the school committee and union leadership whether or not the policies defy the spirit of collaborative negotiations. It is our position the policies do not preclude us from engaging in collaborative negotiations to bargain over the effects of our educational policy decision. That is, the school committee is 100% willing and committed to engage in discussion. We hope to continue talking with the union leadership.
Collective bargaining is a process of give and take to achieve the best agreement for our teachers and our community -- it is very hard work! This year in particular, we are experiencing challenges that we have not experienced in the past. However, as the school committee has stated on several occasions, we will continue to seek a fair agreement that supports program initiatives and builds positive relationships. We will continue to seek open dialogue as negotiations continue and make every effort to work together with NEASK leadership.
The school committee does not wish to impose anything unilaterally on our teachers. We are fully committed to settling a contract before the new school year begins in the fall.
There are 3 main components in the school committee’s proposal to the teachers:
- Economic-We are facing a very real economic problem in our community and in our state. We have built a budget based on a shared ownership of declining revenue. In order to continue to successfully run programs in our school system, the projected economic shortfall needs to be shared among all stakeholders (employees, taxpayers and program cuts). We are asking that the teachers collectively contribute $755,000 to the $58,434,545 budget this year. Currently, teachers contribute 3 to 6% co-pay for their healthcare, but also receive a stipend for Job Embedded Professional Development JEPD which is payment to teachers intended to offset their co-pay. We have proposed that teachers contribute a 20% co-pay (with no offset for JEPD). In the spirit of cooperation, we have invited the teachers to make a counter proposal that will lead (in year 1) to the $755,000. Although there have been public reports dating back to June 28th that the NEA attorney had already met the school committee request for concessions, we first received an economic proposal from the teachers on Friday July 8th - this came after meeting with the full school committee for 5 hours on Tuesday, July 5th followed by another meeting on Wednesday July 6th with the school committee negotiating team and attorneys for both parties. The school committee is committed to Professional Development as it is funded in the budget and provided for in federal program support. We are unable, however, to continue to pay teachers a stipend to offset their co-pay. Unfortunately, in these dire economic times we need all employees to fully pay their healthcare contribution (as budgeted) or we will be in a structural budget deficit in the current budget year. Operating in a deficit is unlawful and would require an immediate corrective action plan which would result in drastic program cuts in September.
- Basic Education Plan-New laws/regulation in Rhode Island call for management’s responsibility to evaluate its employees and determine the staffing plan for the district (matching teacher qualifications to student need). School committees in Rhode Island have been told by the Rhode Island Department of Education and Commissioner Gist that we should try to negotiate the impact of these new responsibilities, and we have. RIDE has informed us that our current contract is not in compliance with the BEP. When our contract expires, as of August 31, 2011, we will be held accountable for implementation of the new BEP. We have written policies to come into compliance while we are in the midst of trying to reach agreement with our teachers. The Commissioner has indicated that if we are not in compliance with the BEP, we will be ordered to become in compliance. If we continue to not be in compliance, RIDE will withhold state aid to SK. We currently receive over 8 million dollars in state aid. This situation of BEP compliance is not unique to South Kingstown. School districts throughout the state are either finding their way to agreement or asking the courts to settle the dispute on their behalf. We would like to come to agreement with our teachers in these areas (as has been done in other communities). The school committee believes that while we are not required to negotiate or arbitrate those items that the Commissioner has declared our responsibility, we welcome an open dialogue and teacher input. But despite the efforts of our entire school committee, we have not reached agreement with our teachers on a plan that would put us in legal compliance.
- Time-Parents throughout the community have told us time and again that they are concerned with the amount of time teachers are out of their classrooms. Research shows that student learning is negatively impacted when the regular teacher is out of the classroom. In our proposal we have asked to talk about the addition of time in 3 main categories. We understand that negotiations are a “give and take” and we look forward to a counter-proposal in this area. We proposed to:
- Extend the School Day for Teachers by 40 minutes per day to conduct parent meetings, extra-help sessions for students, and/or participate in professional development. While this does not extend the school day for students, it will help teachers to be in the classroom more often. Currently we schedule meetings during the school day which takes teachers out of the classroom and adds to our substitute teacher budget. We know that teachers want to be in the classroom with their students and that should be our priority.
- Change the Structure of Meetings-10 faculty meetings, 10 Departmental and/or Grade Level meeting and 5 evening meetings (for parent conferences, open house, Family Math Nights, Science Fairs, etc.). Teachers are paid an additional stipend to attend faculty meetings (equal to their per diem rate of pay).
- Extend the School Year to 193 school days for teachers. Although this does not increase the school year for students, it provides a structure for professional development and curriculum writing throughout the year that does not take teachers out of the classroom.
The 3 components of our proposal are reasonable and are in line with other collective bargaining agreements throughout the state. Again, we are in the midst of bargaining and we look forward to reaching a mutually agreed upon contract. Agreement on these items will assist us in providing a balanced budget and in meeting the needs of our students.
The school committee aspires to achieve a fair contract for both parties by August 31st. We are sincere in our appreciation of the work our teachers do for students and families in South Kingstown. We are sincere in our commitment to participate in collaborative negotiations to achieve the best contract for our community.
Maureen Cotter, Chair
South Kingstown School Committee