Some teachers are back in their classrooms already, students will be in their seats next Wednesday but despite a summer seemingly filled with time, the teachers union and the School Committee as of yesterday had still not hammered out an agreement to succeed the contract that expired last August.
What’s more, when the current contract extension agreement expires on Aug. 31, so too will the teachers’ 20 percent health care co-payment. That single change could cost the department an additional $2 million in the current fiscal year. It’s money the committee hasn’t budgeted.
“The School Committee realizes not much progress has been made to date,” School Committee member Eugene Nadeau said yesterday morning. Nadeau was hopeful of developments at last night’s committee meeting.
“Hopefully steps will be taken to have a long over-due contract,” Nadeau said. He added that the committee “is doing what it needs to do to get this thing going.”
Committee Chair Beth Furtado could not be reached for comment, and despite numerous calls and visits to her office in the last week, Rosemary Healey, director of human resources and the department’s legal counsel, was not available.
Also, as of yesterday morning, Mayor Scott Avedisian said he has not been apprised of any developments concerning a teacher contract.
Several scenarios appear likely at this point, including an extension of the extended contract, an 11th hour settlement, or either or both of the parties taking a hard line stance.
The union could argue that the contract that expired in 2011 is in place until a new agreement is reached, meaning the health care co-payment would revert to $11 a week.
On the other hand, the committee could take the position that because there is no contract, nor an extension of the agreement, that all bets are off. Under this scenario, the department could increase the health care co-payment to 25 percent, as Nadeau espouses, and even unilaterally doing away with provisions, such as classroom weighting and layoff limitations, that would enable the department to significantly trim costs.
Going into last night’s meeting, it looked like a standoff with perhaps not so much as the two sides meeting before schools open on Aug. 29.
School Superintendent Peter Horoschak said Monday the department was waiting for the union to proceed with mediation, but at that point the parties hadn’t set a meeting date. Warwick Teachers Union President James Ginolfi says that while the parties have agreed on a mediator, they continued to have meetings up until about a month ago. Since then, he said, the department has postponed scheduled meetings. He said Tuesday evening no meetings are scheduled.
“We’ve been attempting to meet and that’s one of the problems,” he said. “We’re still hoping to come up with some dates.”
But this doesn’t answer the question as to what happens if there isn’t an agreement by next Wednesday.
Ginolfi reaffirmed the union’s position that the 20 percent health care co-payment goes away without an agreement.
“That’s our position,” Ginolfi said.
Although teachers are forbidden to strike by state law, Ginolfi was asked whether they would return to the classroom without a contract.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “We’ll deal with that when we get to that point.”
Asked how this might play out, Ginolfi said, “We have a number of options.” He would not elaborate.
Ginolfi said there has been little communication with department officials even regarding basic information.
“We don’t know what schools are opening,” he said. “There’s no official word on anything.”
The department issued a schedule of school openings last week, however Ginolfi is questioning whether fire code improvements being done to eight schools during the summer are completed and if the buildings are ready to re-open. Earlier this summer, the department projected the work would be completed by the opening of schools, with the exception of installation of “exit windows” that need to be installed in some rooms as a second means of egress.
“Everything is going to open on time,” Paul Jansson of the school maintenance department said yesterday. He said that all the “cleanup work” has been completed in the six elementary schools done this summer; that cleanup at Winman would be done by Wednesday and at Pilgrim by the end of this week. The installation of the windows, which will be done later this year, he said, would not disrupt occupancy.