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Are New Teacher Contracts the Wave of the Future?

Unions May Need to Accept Less as Districts Scramble for Savings

The biggest cost to multimillion dollar school budgets are staff salaries and benefits. For the Mineola School District, approximately 78 percent of the budget goes toward these expenses. In these tough financial times, as school administrators and boards of education struggle to put budgets before voters that communities will support, an eye has been turned toward employees.

In the Mineola School District, the board of education voted to close two schools with the idea that the district would achieve savings by needing less staff members. With each school closing, according to estimates given at recent board of education meetings, the district would need 10 fewer teachers in addition to other personnel.

However, in the Mineola School District, there is a demand to keep class sizes as low as possible. There are only so many teachers and staff positions the board of education can eliminate without effecting the educational program the school district delivers.

Boards of education on Long Island may be more conscience of spending now than ever before and perhaps will turn their attention labor contracts in hopes of negotiating more concessions that perhaps were negotiated in the past.

The Mineola Board of Education is currently in the midst of a five-year contract with the Mineola Teacher’s Association, the union that represents the teachers. The contract runs from the 2006-2007 school year until the 2010-2011 school year and includes 3.5 percent salary increases each year.

Just recently, the Roslyn School District and Port Washington School District have each settled contracts with their teachers’ unions that included salary increases those districts believe their community can absorb.

The contract agreement between the Port Washington School District and the Port Washington Teachers Association included a zero percent base salary increase with no retroactive pay for the 2009-2010 school year as well as a 1.75 percent base salary increase and an additional 1 percent lump sum payment that will not be included on the salary schedule for 2010-2011 to be funded by the reduction in district contributions to the Teachers Benefit Trust and reduction to staff through additions. Port Washington Teachers will receive 2.5 percent, 2.75 percent and 2.95 percent increases for the 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years respectively.

The Roslyn Board of Education recently approved a new contract with the Roslyn Teachers Association. The contract calls for an average salary schedule increase of 1.525 percent over the four years of the contract including zero percent for the 2010-2011 school year. Teachers will not receive step increases until the middle of 2010-2011.

“I think it definitely sets a tone. It’s just an example of affluent towns around us that are taking less. It will definitely help the districts with negotiations,” said Mineola Superintendent of School Dr. Michael Nagler of those contracts.

Negotiations will eventually begin for a new teachers contact between the Mineola Board of Education and the Mineola Teacher’s Association. As part of the bargaining strategy, negotiators may point to these recent contracts.

“When it comes to bargaining, the comparable school districts near us are part of that; so by having those two districts [Roslyn and Port Washington] negotiate in a fairly favorable manner to the taxpayers, we can hope to move in the same direction,” said Mineola Board of Education President Will Hornberger.

Negotiations between teacher unions and boards of education are always difficult. The board and the administration want to keep costs as low as possible but they also have to keep in mind the value of teachers to the school system since teachers are the ones who spend the most time with the students in the classrooms and through extracurricular activities.

In the West Hempstead School District, the board of education is at an impasse in its negotiations with the union representing the West Hempstead teachers.

For West Hempstead Superintendent of Schools John Hogan, the contract negotiations are a delicate balancing act. As a superintendent, he wants to put forth the most fiscally responsible budget for the public as possible and, at the same time, convey the notion that teachers are valued members of the staff.

“You certainly recognize the value of your teachers to the school district and to the children. Those are the folks who are in the classrooms and they do an outstanding job,” he said. “On the other side of that, though, you have a very real obligation to the residents to bring in a budget that is as fiscally sound as possible.”

The tough economic times have had their impact on Long Island Schools as administrators and boards of education have to deal with a probable decrease in state aid. But Long Islanders have demands for strong school systems that taxpayers have been paying for. With talks of layoffs from some school districts and the need for less expensive contracts, a trend may be developing to spread the pain.