School balks at contract renegotiations
The All-Island School Committee (AISC) voted at a meeting on February 18 not to reopen negotiations with Martha's Vineyard's teachers' union, after a long discussion regarding requests from several towns to eliminate cost of living adjustments (COLAs) in light of the nation's recession.
Martha's Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) Superintendent James Weiss told the school committee that he received letters from the West Tisbury selectmen, West Tisbury Finance Committee (FinCom), Tisbury FinCom, and Martha's Vineyard Finance Association (MVFA), made up of representatives from the six town FinComs.
Mr. Weiss said although the letters were different, their common theme was a request that Martha's Vineyard's school committees reopen negotiations with teachers to possibly eliminate COLAs for fiscal year 2010 (FY10).
"I think given the ambiguities and the obvious intensity of the nationwide if not worldwide economic situation, to look first at our employees and ask them to shoulder the burden is for me unacceptable, and you would all have to work very hard to persuade me otherwise," said Marshall Segall, chairman of the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD).
The Island's teachers' union comprises two groups, the Martha's Vineyard Educator's Association (MVEA), which includes Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury teachers, and the Martha's Vineyard Regional Teachers and Educators Association (MVRTEA), which includes the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School District and Up-Island School District teachers, and support staff.
There is one year left in the teachers' current three-year contract, which runs through FY10. Under the contract's terms, they will receive between a 3.5 to 4 percent increase in FY10, depending on what steps they are at in the salary schedule.
"I would maintain that our teachers don't get COLAs - we have a three-year negotiated agreement that has nothing to do, really, with the cost of living - it's what we negotiated," Mr. Weiss said in a follow-up phone call after the meeting. What the towns were asking for, he explained, is the elimination of the negotiated salary percentage increase for FY10.
The MVPS has five bargaining units - for teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, custodians, and food service workers. While there is a step structure for each bargaining unit, Mr. Weiss estimated that about half of the union members are at the top of their salary schedules and receive only the negotiated percentage increase.
In discussion at the AISC meeting, Oak Bluffs School Committee chairman Priscilla Sylvia said she was concerned about the lack of consistency among Martha's Vineyard's towns regarding COLAs, depending on whether or not their employees were in unions. She wanted to know more about Martha's Vineyard's towns' unions before she made a decision.
"I want to make it understood that from West Tisbury's standpoint, we're not asking the bargaining units to give up any step adjustments, lane changes, or any of those other increases as specified in the contracts," said AISC member and West Tisbury selectman Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter. "I think it would be just a step of good faith to at least ask the bargaining units to at least consider it. And they could very easily, respectfully say no, we bargained this in good faith - we don't want to."
Mr. Weiss agreed. "I think it would be wise to have some kind of discussion at some level with our employees," he said. "I'm not saying that we reopen the negotiations, necessarily, but I think it would be a wise political move to at least have the discussion, and that can be an informal discussion by a group this body determines would be appropriate."