The School Committee and the teachers union have agreed to a new, three-year contract – retroactive to September 2013 – that does away with the ‘job fair’ program where teachers with the right certification could claim a job based on seniority alone.
The contract also grants pay raises of 2 percent to 3 percent over three years and increases the health care copay amount teachers must pay to 20 percent by the third year in the contract. (See details at end of story.)
The agreement was more than seven months overdue and, according to representatives from both sides, finding language to satisfy everyone on job placement was the sticking point.
“From a work environment, the biggest issue was getting contract language that would comply with the Basic Education Program, specifically as it relates to human capital management,” said School Committee Chairman David Green. “The job fair – that in its old form no longer exists and couldn’t under the BEP. So we had to generate language that would accommodate the BEP and the bargaining unit and the administration could live with.”
The Basic Education Plan, according to the state Dept. of Education, sets basic standards Rhode Island public school districts must meet “to help ensure that high-quality education is available to all public school students.” Revisions to the BEP in 2009 called for the end of the seniority-only system for job placement.
Under the job fair system, East Greenwich teachers interested in a job that had become open would attend the job fair and, if they had the appropriate certification and the highest seniority, they would get the position.
Under the new system, teachers will be interviewed for the job they seek. If two teachers are deemed equally qualified for the particular job, the teacher with greater seniority would get the position – “a tie-breaker, if you will,” said Green.
“They’ll be assigned based upon what’s best for the students,” he said. “Now, there’s at least input by the administration. That’s a large deal.”
National Education Association’s Jay Walsh, the union’s representative, said the discussion became so difficult that a mediator was called in for a few sessions last fall.
“When school committees and teacher locals are trying to change long-established teacher contracts, it’s difficult for both sides,” said Walsh. “When you’re writing brand-new contract language … neither side can agree to new language until both parties understand what the language means.”
He added, “School committees and superintendents are caught in a very difficult bind. The commissioner sent a letter to school committee chairs that threatened school committees and threatened state aid if they didn’t go along with her opinion.”
He was referring to a letter sent out by Education Commissioner Deborah Gist in 2013 saying school districts must not use a job placement system based on seniority. Some school committees, he said, not naming the districts, are choosing not to negotiate over job placement. East Greenwich did agree to negotiate.
“The East Greenwich School Committee and teachers bargained a way to give teachers options in job transfer and give the superintendent more authority over movement than the superintendent previously had,” said Walsh.
Walsh said the union voted on the new contract in a meeting May 1.
“The ratification meeting was pretty well attended,” Walsh said. “Well over 90 percent of the teachers who were there were in favor of the contract.”
The School Committee approved the contract in executive (i.e. closed) session at its meeting April 15.