Written by Rich Forestano: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 27 April 2012 00:00
If there’s one thing a school district doesn’t need in the first year it must get a budget under a 2 percent tax cap, it’s looming teacher contract negotiations. The Mineola School District touted a tax levy increase of 1.93 percent for the 2012-13 school year, one of few districts that have showcased a levy of 2.5 or lower for the last five years. Whether or not the district goes unscathed after ongoing discussions with the Mineola Teachers Association (MTA) remains to be seen.
District Superintendent Michael Nagler revealed he met with Howard Edelman, an impartial mediator and go-between for the district and the MTA on April 17. Edelman has served as mediator for numerous contract squabbles, including deliberations for the Freeport School District and Hewlett-Woodmere School District.
Edelman did not return calls for comment.
Nagler would not disclose the context of the conversation, but indicated that Edelman is currently in deep talks with the teachers union. He will meet with Edelman to discuss negotiation developments this week.
“Negotiations are under way,” Nagler said. “We have a mediator appointed to us. [Edelman’s] job is to go between the two parties and try to come up with a resolution on the issues that [both parties] do not seem to move on and try to find common ground. If he can, we’ll continue to work with him, if he can’t, we’ll go to the next step.”
The 275-member union has operated without a contract since June 30, 2011. While there are no salary increases when a district has no agreement in place with a union, Mineola still has to pay STEP increases, according to the Triborough Amendment in the Taylor Law, which prohibits a public employer from altering any provision of an expired labor agreement until a new agreement is reached.
“Almost everything continues, including their STEP increases if they go from eight years experience to nine years experience, they get the money,” Nagler stated.
School districts like West Hempstead, after a two-year contract battle, agreed to no STEP increase until 2013 last May. Nagler did not indicate if Mineola would take a similar approach.
“If our STEP increases are 1.5 percent and our tax levy cap is 2 percent, that only leaves 0.5 worth of funds for everybody who doesn’t go to STEP,” he said in a phone interview. “We’re a more senior staff, which is why the STEP is low. Because of that, there’s more people eligible for STEP.”
The previous agreement called for a 3.5 percent raise each year for the duration of that contract, with STEP increases between 1.5 to 2 percent. Teachers contributed approximately 15 percent to medical benefit costs.
The new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) carries significant weight in negotiations, according to Nagler. Under the new APPR plan, 60 percent of teacher ratings would be based on classroom observations, 20 percent on students’ scores on state standardized tests, and 20 percent on a list of three scoring options.
That could include locally developed tests, tests offered by third parties or a simple doubling of the value placed on the state tests. School boards would have to negotiate the final 20 percent with local unions.
Any school district that does not implement the new APPR by January 2013 will lose school aid.
“It’s big,” said Nagler. “We have to negotiate APPR. It’s the law. We can’t just universally impose it.”
Board President Christine Napolitano is confident a deal will get done, but indicated talks are in a state of cessation.
“What I know is we’re pretty much at a standstill,” Napolitano said. “It has gone to a mediator and these things just take time. It’s like a back and forth thing. Basically, there’s nothing more to add other than that there’s a stalemate right now.”
All signs point to that this will not get done overnight and one meeting will not tell the tale of where negotiations could shift from now until the budget vote on May 15. More meetings are expected between now and next month.
“I would not say after one meeting that there was great movement on either side,” Nagler stated. “I think we’re farther apart on the language than we are on the money. That doesn’t minimize the significance of things.”
Trustee John McGrath was under the notion that the district and union were far apart on a contract agreement dating back to March. Nagler noted that there are certain avenues he will not take.
“Certain things I’m not moving on, as per [the board’s] direction,” Nagler indicated. “I’ll continue until [the board] tells me otherwise, so from that aspect, we’re not bending.”
The previous contract contained an excess provision, which indicated the district could if needed, excess up to 10 teachers per year. For those who were excessed under the old agreement, the district had to pay their health benefits for eight months. It is unknown if the same provisions will be included in a future agreement.
“If I have a [different] recommendation, I’ll come back to the board and let them know that,” Nagler concluded. “The levy cap changes negotiations. My hands are tied. I can’t exceed 2 percent but it includes salary, health insurance and pension. All those things are in the budget, which is capped.”
MTA President Teresa Perrotta Hafner says the union recognizes the changes coming to state education and acknowledge the fact that the economy is still struggling to get out of its own way.
“We recognize the difficult financial times and we are working with the district to reach an appropriate agreement,” she said. “We have no further comment at this time.”