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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

City Teachers Snub Negotiations, KO Extended Day Proposal

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, June 05, 2006

North Adams - A proposal to add up to 90 minutes to the public school day was slapped down by members of the North Adams Teacher's Association union without one negotiating session ever taking place.

During a June 5 school committee meeting, NATA President Stephen Dallmeyer of 16 Randall St., Adams, who is a Drury High School teacher, confirmed that a majority of the city's teachers voted against negotiating salaries and other issues involving an extended education day proposal.

The June 5 action likely destroyed any chance for the plan to move forward for the upcoming school year.

Bitterly Disappointed

City Mayor John Barrett III immediately expressed dismay at the action. Barrett is chairman of the city's public school department school committee.

"I would have at least come to the bargaining table to see what we would offer," Barrett said during the meeting.

The teachers' refusal to come to the negotiating table about the matter will have a detrimental impact on a school committee-approved Fiscal Year 2007 $16,070,388 public school budget, will mean that some vacant teaching positions will not be filled and will result in larger class sizes, Barrett said.

The public school budget will be considered by the City Council during a June 13 meeting.

Teacher Raises Had Been On The Table

Had the teachers been willing to investigate the possible extended day options, they would have learned that teacher salaries could have been hiked by 14.5 percent, due mostly to grant funds available to school districts implementing extended day programs, Barrett said. The potential increases included contractual 2 1/4 percent pay raises, he said.

"If they had come to the table and then rejected it, I could have respected that," Barrett said after the meeting adjourned. "I am bitterly disappointed."

A meeting with teachers had been planned for June 8, he added.

The city's school department stood to receive about $1.5 million in grant money to implement the extended day program, said Barrett and school committee member John Hockridge.

The grant cannot be awarded, nor can the extended day proposal move forward, in the absence of teacher support and good faith negotiations, Hockridge said.

Hockridge was the school committee liaison to an extended day steering committee, which was comprised of individuals including teachers and parents. The city was awarded a state Department of Education $25,000 extended day planning grant last year and had assembled a plan that was highly regarded by state education officials, Barrett and Hockridge said.

"We Were The Model Program"

Barrett said that the city's extended day efforts were being talked up by state education officials on a state-wide basis, and Hockridge said that DOE officials considered the city's extended day plan to be the best in the state.

"We were the model program; the number one proposal in the state," Hockridge said."I'm very disappointed [with the teacher action]. I wish they would have come to the table to hear what we had to offer. Maybe we still wouldn't have come to an agreement but at least we would have talked."

Barrett and Hockridge said that plans for an extended school day at the three elementary schools and the Conte middle school were poised for a shift to a smaller pilot program involving one elementary school and the Conte middle school, or possibly two elementary schools.

Participating schools were expected to receive revenues of $1,300 per pupil to fund the program, Hockridge said. Had that amount been reduced, school department officials would have had to reconsider extended day program participation, he said.

NATA Statement

Dallmeyer provided a printed statement to media members and school committee members. He stated that there would be no comment beyond the statement.

The statement cited results of a survey sent to elementary and middle school student parents earlier in the school year. Parents who responded indicated that they were against extended day by a count of 261 to 191, with 105 surveys returned as "undecided." Using the NATA tally, 557 surveys were returned.

"The NATA respects parents concerns, which included a lack of information about the program itself, sports and after-school activity issues, and lost family time," the statement read.

Barrett said that the surveys were distributed prior to public informational meetings that were held about the proposal.

The NATA "is eager to consider a pilot project for an extended day program in the future, as long as there is adequate input and support from parents, the community, and educators," according to the statement.

The statement also charged that the city school district was the only district in the state proposing to implement the change in all schools except the high school.

Barrett and Hockridge said that, had the teachers been willing to discuss the matter, they would have learned that the proposal was being scaled back and would have also learned of a proposal to permit parents who objected to extended day to place their children in an unaffected school during a pilot duration.

"Teachers were not adequately involved in the development of the extended school day proposal," said NATA executive board member Christopher Caproni in the prepared statement. "A committee of parents, teachers, and administrators was formed but after several initial meetings rarely convened to discuss what a successful program might look like. Teachers were initially excited about the project during the early discussions but the breakdown of regular meetings really hurt the development of the project."

Barrett said that public hearings about the proposal began in January. Opportunities for talks with teachers have existed since April, he said.

"And they say there wasn't time to put together a plan?"

Teaching Jobs Set For Elimination

During the meeting, and prior to Dallmeyer's confirmation of the teacher action, school Superintendent James Montepare announced that six elementary school teaching positions are set for elimination.

Three Sullivan school teaching posts, two teaching positions at Brayton school, and one teaching job at Greylock school are being cut because of a reduction in pupil enrollment in specific grade levels. Three teachers will retire from the Conte middle school, and take a combined total of over 100 years experience with them, he said.

Ronald O'Brien, a technology integration specialist and former classroom teacher, will retire as of June 30, reading teacher Donna Moore will retire as of Sept. 5, and art teacher Margaret "Peggy" Senecal will retire as of Nov. 22.

FY 2007 Public School Budget

During the school budget public hearing, Barrett noted that the proposed FY 2007 public school budget reflects a $446,792 increase over the FY 2006 $15,623,596 budget.

Heating costs are expected to increase by about 32 percent, and the FY 2007 budget seeks $375,203 for heating costs, a $90,958 jump over the FY 2006 budgeted amount of $284,245. Other utility costs contributed to the budget increase, with $457,945 included for utilities in the FY 2007 budget. That is just over 33 percent more than the FY 2006 amount of $343,529.

Montepare said that special education costs are up. The school district expects that eight children diagnosed with autism will begin the 2006-07 school at the elementary grade level. One of the students has medical needs that require nursing services. Montepare said that the district must meet the students' needs and if those needs cannot be met within the public schools, the district will have to pay for residential placement.

There will be no fees for any athletic or other extra-curricular programs, Barrett and Montepare said.

School committee members voted to enter executive session [closed to the public]for purposes of collective bargaining.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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