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What splits a city and its teachers in Manchester negotiations

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 17. 2018 9:36PM

MANCHESTER — When the city teachers union declared on June 4 that talks with the school board’s negotiating team over a new contract had hit an impasse, both sides issued statements on the announcement, with union leadership citing an inability to find “common ground” and school officials blaming teacher salary proposals.

But what exactly was discussed at the table? The New Hampshire Union Leader filed requests with both the Manchester Education Association (MEA) and the school district’s Special Committee on Negotiations, seeking clarity on proposals submitted by both sides.

The current agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the Manchester Education Association (MEA) expires June 30. Talks between the two sides began earlier this spring.

In response to a request from a Union Leader reporter, MEA President Sue Hannan declined to release them “in their entirety” because “they are still on the table and need to be discussed.”

“We have brought forward many no-cost, or cost-saving proposals, but you don’t hear about those,” said Hannan.

“As far as we are concerned, the declaration of impasse has brought this round of negotiations to an end, so there is nothing still on the table to discuss,” said Rich Girard, chair of the school district’s Special Committee on Negotiations. “We’re going to have to start all over again.”

According to Hannan, the MEA sent a notice last summer to Art Beaudry, Vice Chair of Board of School Committee, letting them know the union was ready to start negotiations. The process, Hannan said, didn’t get underway until this past March and April, after city elections were held and following the resignation of former negotiations committee chair John Avard of Ward 10.

“We had three sessions of talking about ground rules, taking up all of March and into April, knowing full well our contract ends on June 30,” said Hannan. “We expressed our concern that these delays were possibly intentional. After all, budgets cannot include salary steps or changes if there is no agreement in place. We were assured that this was not the case, but here we are.”

“Recognizing the task before us and the differences between our proposals, we offered to bring in a facilitator to manage the discussions on April 9,” said Girard. “We believed it would expedite coming to agreements on various issues. They rejected the offer saying, among other things, that they believed it would ‘take too much time’ and they were anxious for an agreement before the end of the contract year.”

According to information provided by the negotiations committee in response to a Right to Know request filed by the Union Leader, the district offered several options regarding proposed changes to the school calendar including:

— A return to the prior “days calendar,” which would provide 180 days of instruction and restore the daily schedule, except as noted below. Days lost to unexpected closure due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances would be made up.

‑ Continue with the current “hours calendar” and daily schedule. Days lost to unexpected closure due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances would be made up.

Either scenario included:

‑ A 25 minute lunch period at all schools so principals have flexibility to schedule intervention or enrichment time for students.

‑ The School Board determining the beginning and end of each school day so as to have the flexibility needed to better facilitate transportation

Though neither side released specifics on either proposal submitted by the MEA, cost analyses on both performed by the district estimate the union’s initial offer contained cost increases of $20 million — $14.5 million in base salaries — over three years.

“That was the first proposal, and was recognized by MEA as unreasonably high,” said Hannan. “The point of giving those numbers was to give the Board the numbers of where we should be, for our education and our professional work. Manchester ranks 66th in New Hampshire for educator starting salary. The first year alone would have cost the District $7.7M. We did, however, follow that up with a second, more modest proposal that would have worked much better in the budget.”

That second proposal came in at $27.7 million in increases across five years, $21.6 million of which are base salaries with longevity built in.

“We did have discussions about health benefits, but not much,” said Hannan. “MEA attempted to work with School Care, a company many school districts are turning to for coverage. They felt they could offer some plans that would bring significant savings. We could also help to design the plan. The (school) board brought an idea forward about a Site of Service plan, much like the state employees have. They brought no numbers, no specifics for us to peruse, just the idea.”

“We had a substantial discussion about potential changes to the health insurance plan that would save both the employees and the district money,” said Girard.

Other proposals Hannan said the union made that were rejected were:

1. to change the word “teacher” to the word “educator” throughout the CBA

2. to fix language to help make it more clear and interpreted correctly

3. to offer separation packages that could assist the district with those who may want to leave but don’t have the years in to do it.

“We explained that we were worried about potential “unintended consequences” of the wording change given how the state’s laws refer to teachers, etc.,” said Girard. “There was agreement on several minor ‘housekeeping’ issues. We had discussion on separation packages for those not eligible for retirement and said we would consider addressing that in any future proposal on salaries, though we did not commit to a proposal on that item.”

Hannan said in early June, the union decided it was time to “stop what was going on.”

“There were no tentative agreements,” said Hannan. “We felt that there were delay tactics involved to string out negotiations and expire the contract so we would be in status quo and they would not have to pay our steps.”

“We had what we believed were significant and constructive discussions on the school calendar, absenteeism and sick pay, severance, health insurance and salaries,” said Girard. “Improving classroom conditions for the kids and teachers is not necessarily about how much more the teachers are going to get paid in a district that needs to have more of them and provide more to them. We invite the MEA back to the table so we can restart these critical conversations and bring them to resolution.”

The proposals can be viewed below:

Education Labor Social issues Local and County Government Manchester

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