Teachers, district spar publicly over contract talks

Both sides claim the other is putting out inaccurate information on the web

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — So much for the era of good feelings.

The ongoing talks between the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District and its teachers turned publicly angry Monday night at the Board of Education meeting, as both sides alleged the other is posting misleading information on their respective Web sites – just weeks after it appeared the two sides were finally making steady, if slow, progress toward a new deal.

The spiral into acrimony appears to have started after the district posted a lengthy statement on its position and that of the union on April 14, including the settlement of a long-standing dispute about continuing education for teachers. Pat Clark, president of the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association, the teachers’ union, said he took issue with claims that teachers were “systematic abusers of education advancement.” Board members responded by pointing out that the teachers had yet to respond to the district’s latest contract offer.

Clark also suggested that some of the other claims made by the district on its Web site were an “incomplete and inaccurate portrayal of these two proposals.” He said he also took issue with the claims that complaints filed by the union with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board over unfair labor practices were “questionable” and that the PLRB had sided with the teachers on one complaint, while the other was withdrawn. Clark noted what he considered a number of “half-truths” in the April 14 document and said that the statement had hurt the contract talks.

“This strains our already difficult negotiations,” Clark said.

Board members made it plain they disagreed with Clark and the teachers’ union’s claims.

“There’s nothing inaccurate, no half-truths on the Web site,” said board member Frank Murphy, who has spearheaded the talks for the board.

Murphy and Clark also sparred over the agreement on educational advancement — Murphy suggesting that the union wasn’t interested in reaching a deal until the morning of the hearing, Clark saying that the district’s statement seemed to suggest that the district had won the hearing.

“The association wasn’t interested in settling until the morning of the hearing,” Murphy said.

Clark took issue with that, saying that the UCFEA made settlement offers in the weeks prior to the hearing.

Murphy said that the failure to reach a deal before the hearing meant the district was forced to spend “tens of thousands of dollars” and many hours of work by the administration to prepare for the hearing.

Other board members expressed disappointment in Clark’s statements.

“None of us have anything but our reputations,” board member Corrine Sweeney said. “And I feel like mine was challenged. I stand behind what was on the Web site.”

Both sides did acknowledge that they hoped to resume talks soon — with both sides facing some deadline pressure to get a deal done, as the district has to lock in its health-care plan by July 1, and the teachers have gone without a raise or seniority increases since the contract expired in June, 2010.

While it got a bit heated at points, Murphy offered his hope that both sides might find the ability to set a new tone in the talks — citing the example of Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker, who announced her retirement Monday night.

“I hope we can learn from Sharon’s wisdom and graciousness and use this an an opportunity to pull together,” he said. “We should use this as a joining together moment and we need to act like adults.”

In a move that could ratchet up pressure on the teachers, the district’s support personnel announced that they would accept a wage freeze for the 2011-12 school year. Jim McLimans, speaking for a group of about a dozen employees in various departments, told the board during Monday night’s meeting.

Various board members express thanks — coming just days after the district’s administrators announced that they, for the second straight year, would accept a pay freeze.

“I would like to express our thanks for making this sacrifice,” Murphy told the workers. “It’s truly appreciated that you’re making this sacrifice on behalf of the community.”

Sweeney suggested that thanks were not enough and that she would have liked to come down from the dais and give the workers a hug.

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One Comment

  1. John says:

    Really…..as if the employees could do anything else but to accept a pay freeze. I wonder if they knew the carefully crafted “administrator wage freeze” was actually a work furlough? What options did they have?

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