Supporters of the Martha’s Vineyard Educators Association (MVEA) gathered on Saturday at Vineyard Haven’s Five Corners to build public awareness about their ongoing contract dispute with the school district.
Omnipresent, bright yellow “Fair pay for the MVEA” signs held by Vineyard teachers, parents, and students were met with supportive car honks. The teachers and their supporters were attempting to raise awareness of the current debate taking place between the Islands’ teacher union and the school committee over their contract.
Present were an array of school staff, current and retired teachers, cafeteria workers, students and parents of students, all of whom felt the need to acknowledge the importance of supporting the Island’s schools’ employees.
The demands are relatively straightforward, said MVEA co-president Gina Patti. As stated in their letter to The Times, also visible on the MVEA website, “[M.V.’s] teachers need to earn a livable wage, and feel supported and valued by their community … with inflation rates soaring, our previously negotiated wages have not come close to keeping up with the cost of living.”
“The high cost of living on this Island makes offering a competitive salary essential,” the letter reads. “Just as healthcare workers can’t afford to live on M.V., our educators and support staff are also stretched to be able to afford to live on M.V. We implore you to offer Island teachers wages that are commensurate with the cost of living to support the future of our schools.”
Teachers are feeling the pinch of the Island’s housing crisis. According to the MVEA petition letter, in addition to wage disputes, the school district recently attempted to renegotiate the health insurance plans of school employees, a change that would limit health care options and/or require “educators to pay more out of pocket for their health insurance.” Healthcare coverage is “one of the most valuable pieces of compensation” Martha’s Vineyard school staff receive, and the diminishment of insurance benefits would have far-reaching detrimental effects.
Patti, spokesperson for the teacher’s union in its ongoing negotiations with the Martha’s Vineyard School Committee and organizer of Saturday’s gathering, explained that the fair wage proposal, which is not limited to just teachers, but includes specialists, occupational therapists, nurses, guidance counselors, etc., has been met with resistance by the school committee, with offers that do not financially compute with the reality of Vineyard living.
The current three-year contract offer presented to the school employees is insufficient, former MVEA president Anne Davey said; however, “we are willing to negotiate. We are willing to go back to the table.”
Kate DeVane, chair of the all-Island school committee, and co-chair of the negotiations team for the towns of Martha’s Vineyard, told the Times, “We cannot comment on ongoing negotiations,” asserting that the committee is working to do the “best for our teachers, [whom] we value.
“We are trying to respond to their request without putting an unacceptable tax burden on the rest of the community,” DeVane added.
Mediation is scheduled to take place April 14.
“We all want better futures for our children,” MVEA reps said in the statement calling for equitable employment benefits. “There’s no debate that a good-quality education is the foundation of our children’s future success, and a good education requires qualified and talented teachers and support staff.”