WESTERLY — Efforts to work out the terms of a new contract between the school board and the Westerly Teachers Association, the union that represents teachers who work in the city’s public schools, are headed for arbitration though the two parties disagree on how or why they were unable to reach an agreement on their own or with the assistance of a mediator.
On Thursday, the teachers’ union released a statement on its Facebook page saying that the school committee “rejected the WTA’s proposal to continue negotiations under the supervision of a mediator, and instead plans to move the process to arbitration. without agreeing to accept the decision of an arbitrator”. recommendation.”
But school board chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy, who consulted with the board’s lawyer before answering questions from The Sun, said arbitration became necessary when the union rejected the board’s latest contract offer, the second proposal to be refused since August. The second offer was approved by mediator Frank Williams, retired chief justice of the state Supreme Court, as “fair and reasonable”, Chiaradio Bowdy said. Williams was chosen by the union to mediate after the two sides failed to agree on the initial offer.
“The WTA did not like [Williams’] recommendation – or the result – and rejected it. [Williams] deadlock declared. Now the WTA wants to do it again with another mediator. The WTA has requested interest arbitration. Thus, it is wrong and misleading for the WTA to blame the committee for invoking the process that the WTA now condemns as costly. The WTA asked for it. The committee negotiated in good faith at all times and followed the process provided by law. He will continue to do so until he comes to an agreement,” Chiaradio Bowdy said.
If the WTA deems arbitration to be unsuccessful and costly, it may withdraw its request and return to the negotiating table “with a proposal that will break the impasse and be aligned with the City’s ability and willingness to fund the school department,” Chiaradio Bowdy said.
However, the union says it does not want to enter into arbitration.
“It will cost the city thousands of dollars in additional legal fees that could have been better spent resolving the contract and may not result in a successful resolution at all. The WTA was ready and willing to continue negotiations as long as it would have to be, and we had hoped that both parties would be able to come to a mutual agreement on a contractual proposal without having to resort to arbitration,” the union said in its statement.
Senior teachers, a group that makes up the vast majority of those employed in the city’s public schools, would have received a bonus or one-time payment in the first year and 2% salary increases in each of the two years. following under the rejected contract proposal in December. But the union says changes to the cost of health insurance offered to teachers by the school board would have effectively canceled the salary increase in the third year of the contract.
“Teachers in the West have always worked hard and that has been especially true over the past two years. We have navigated COVID, we have worked in a distance learning capacity and now in a hybrid capacity, in order to meet to the needs of our students. We find it difficult to understand why we continually receive accolades and accolades only to receive a nominal increase, an increase in the working day and an increase in health care expenses,” said the union in its press release.
The contract proposal that was rejected in December would have set the teachers’ working day at 6 hours and 55 minutes from the current 6 hours and 40 minutes to provide a cushion before the start and after the end of each school day. The contract would also have reduced teachers’ schedules by one day per year.
“We are very disappointed that we were not able to continue negotiations in good faith. Ultimately, however, the management contract proposal reflects the values of our city and, unfortunately, the message teachers are receiving is that their efforts extraordinary efforts to care for and educate the children of Westerly are no longer valued. We will continue to show up for our students every day as we always have, however, Westerly teachers deserve better,” the union said in its statement. .
The City Council, in its deliberations on the current school committee budget, suggested that it would be reluctant to increase the allocation of council tax money to the school department without first analyzing the current requirement to maintain the city’s effort and whether it aligns with declining student enrollment. State law prohibits municipalities from reducing education spending from year to year, but allows municipalities with declining enrollment to make a per-student calculation.
The contract wrangle also hangs over the specter of declining state aid to city schools. Cindy Kirchhoff, director of finance and operations for the school department, recently told the school board that state aid, which is partly based on student enrollment, could be reduced by up to 1.5 million. dollars for the 2022-23 budget.
“The parties have worked hard and collaboratively for many months. They have agreed to many changes to the contract that will benefit teachers and students. “it can’t fund – it’s that simple. By law, the committee must maintain a balanced budget; the demands of the WTA are not financially feasible. The committee has been transparent and clear. It has opened its books to everyone’s eyes. The state’s money is dwindling and the city’s resources are limited,” said Chiaradio Bowdy.
The school board, said Chiaradio Bowdy, respects and values teachers.
“But misinformation and distortion of the committee’s good faith efforts only undermines what should be a joint effort to provide the best for our students during some of the most difficult times in history. The committee urges the WTA to return to the table with a tax-responsible proposal He can withdraw his request for interest arbitration Blaming the committee for a bad decision to reject what a seasoned and fair mediator strongly recommended is not a winning tactic. It only widens the gap,” said Chiaradio Bowdy.