Updated @ 4:30 pm
After going to mediation and failing to come to terms, the Martha’s Vineyard Education Association (MVEA) and the school committee remain at odds in their contract negotiations.
Along with compensation, the teachers union and the committee also disagree over the attempt to renegotiate the health insurance plans of school employees, according to MVEA reps. As previously stated in a letter to The Times, Island teachers say they are struggling to make ends meet: “With inflation rates soaring, our previously negotiated wages have not come close to keeping up with the cost of living.”
Gina Patti, Oak Bluffs School teacher, MVEA co-president, and spokesperson for the teacher’s union in its negotiations with the school committee, reiterated that the union’s wage proposal has been met with resistance by the school committee.
The three-year contract proposal by the MVEA called for a 6 percent salary increase for year one, with 4 percent increases in year two and three– taking into consideration the unprecedented work put in by Island teachers in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We thought we might have come to a tentative agreement at the last [meeting],” Patti told The Times. “Unfortunately, mediation failed.” Patti said the union made a counteroffer to the district’s proposal.
The school committee’s “best and final offer,” said Patti, was significantly less than the union’s proposal — a 2 percent increase for the first year, followed by a 3 percent increase for years two and three.
The MVEA, willing to negotiate, countered the offer, and proposed a 2 percent salary increase for year one and a 3.25 percent increase for the following two years. The district refused to budge.
Eighth grade math teacher at the Oak Bluffs School and negotiations team member Eve Heyman said that the union did what it could to come to terms. “We were hoping to come to a resolution,” adding later, “it’s hard not to take it personally.”
Immediately following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, school staff “worked in ways they never have before,” Patti said. “[They] did jobs they’ve never done before, on platforms they’ve never worked with.” With similar sentiment, Heyman added, “the children were sent home on Friday, March 13, and on Monday, March 16, there were lessons ready — from home.”
Heyman said the MVEA has experienced overwhelming support from the families of students, but feel a lack of support from the school committee, and a general disregard for the work Island teachers exhibited during the pandemic. The members of the teachers’ union have stayed updated on the negotiations, but as far as the facts being disseminated to Island families, the bullet points get lost in the mix. “I’m not sure the public understands what’s going on completely, yet,” she said.
The MVEA held a unionwide Zoom meeting on Thursday, May 19, with more than 180 participants, said Patti. A vote for the approval of the district’s 2 percent offer was met with 98 percent against. Additionally, 87 percent voted to “support the process with action,” when union reps requested feedback on how to proceed. “Never have I seen that much support in a union here,” said Patti.
Kate DeVane, chair of the all-Island school committee and co-chair of the negotiations team for the towns of Martha’s Vineyard, called the clash a “tricky situation.” DeVane told The Times that the committee has a “fiduciary responsibility” to not just the teachers and school employees, but to the community. The two rounds of mediation, said DeVane, have “been an attempt to offer something the teachers would think is acceptable.”
Referring to a recent agreement between the committee and non-teacher school employees, such as custodians and food service workers, that ended amicably and in general in favor of the employees, DeVane said it was in the best interest of the committee to “look at the bottom of the payscale and make sure [non-teacher school employees] are comfortable.”
DeVane said that because teacher’s salaries are already higher than those of other school employees, meeting the MVEA’s proposed increase would cause strain on the schools and taxpayers.
The union representatives pointed to recent discussion of $2 million in excess and deficiency funds for MVRHS. That required the district to distribute $900,000 in unused funds back to the towns. “It’s really hard to sit in these meetings and be told there’s no money,” said Patti, “when it appears there is money.”
The school committee was scheduled to meet on Wednesday, and in a continued effort to come to some sort of resolution, the MVEA and the school committee will begin a formal fact-finding and arbitration process. That would typically involve legal representation and an objective third-party panel. No date has been set.
An early version of this story had incorrect information about the percentage increase being sought by teachers -Ed.