Unionville teacher talks set to resume Tuesday

Teachers in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District show their displeasure at working without a new contract. Contract talks are set to resume Tuesday.

No movement as yet by either side, but negotiators express hope for new talks

By Mike McGann
, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

EAST MARLBOROUGH — A new round of contract talks is slated to start Tuesday morning in the deadlocked negotiations between the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District and its teachers union  — and as yet, neither side has formally responded to the other’s latest contract offer.

Although neither side has formally rejected the other’s offer, public statements by both sides in recent days make it evident that there remains a wide gap and that neither offer is likely to be embraced.

After 10 months of talks, the two sides still disagree on the basic frame work of financial talks — disagreeing about how to even describe the other’s pay and benefits offer.

Ruthann Waldie, the negotiator for the union, said she reached out to her counterpart, board negotiator Mark Fitzgerald, but the informal chat went no where.

“I was hoping to get us on the same page, be able to make an ‘apples to apples’ comparison of the numbers,” Waldie said. “But that really didn’t go anywhere.”

The main bone of contention revolves around how to count par raises related to educational advances and whether to count the big increase in teacher pension contributions in coming years as part of the compensation package.

Even with a so-called “apples to apples” comparison, the two sides are still fairly fair apart — with the teachers asking for an average increase of 4.9% over the four years of the proposed contract, while the school board is offering an average of 1.8% — if you take out the pension and education advancement, the teachers argue their proposal asks for 4.3% per year.

State mediator Richard Stober will again sit in on the talks — although Waldie suggested this week that he has been ineffective to date — and taken little time to work with the parties to find common ground. Board sources refute that, suggesting that Stober has been effective, just that the differences between the two sides have been too difficult to bridge.

“Quite frankly, from the board’s perspective, we have to look at those numbers that way,” Fitzgerald said. “Ultimately, because of those numbers, the teachers are getting a compounding raise and that has to be factored in.”

Using the board’s numbers, the two sides are almost $15 million apart over the life of the four-year contract — a potential problem just in terms of getting a 2010-11 budget done. If as anticipated, the Act I index rate (the maximum rate at which local taxes can be raised by a school board without the budget being sent to referendum) is 1.4% as expected, it could require large cuts to programs — and possibly teacher layoffs to get under the state-mandated numbers if the new contract adds nearly $4 million to the district’s budget. Even at half that number, sources suggest, which is closer to the numbers being offered by the district, there still might have to be some fairly serious cuts of programs and staff.

Despite the gulf, both sides seemed to express optimism that progress will be made Tuesday.

“I do believe that both sides want a contract,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m hopeful that both sides will come to the table ready to make progress.” Waldie offered similar sentiments.

In addition to the financial issues, there are some issues regarding tuition reimbursement for some categories of education and disagreements about a board proposal to add days to the work year and hours to the work week for teachers.

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