Herricks teachers still without a contract

Herricks teachers still without a contract
Members of Girl Scout Troop 1434 visit the Herricks Board of Education meeting as part of the requirements for the government merit badge. (Photo by Samuel Glasser)


By Samuel Glasser

Teachers at the Herricks School District have been working without a contract going on 10 months, and the negotiations have been fruitless thus far, Herricks Teachers Association President Nidya Degliomini said last Thursday.

The union and the board representatives will meet with a fact-finder this week, but each side will sit down separately with the mediator, she said in an interview after the Board of Education meeting last Thursday night.

“In the past, board members sat in the negotiating sessions,” Degliomini said. “Now they send their lawyer and administrators, but we want a board member sitting at the table as in the past.”

She said that during the settlement of the last contract, a board member sat in and “we got it done.”

Degliomini noted that the district’s other labor contracts are up for renewal, too. The administrators’ and teaching assistants’ contracts expire in June and the contracts for non-teaching personnel, such as school bus drivers, custodians and clerical workers, are up in 2020.

She was dismayed that there had been no movement on the contract for months and this was the first time in many years that the contract had not been settled by the opening of the school year.

Degliomini said the teachers have always supported the students and community. “We were half the room at the recent Herricks Community Fund Dinner,” which raises money for scholarships, the school district and other community programs, she pointed out.

The teachers union president said the HTA did not want to take action that would hurt the community but cautioned that its crisis team “is moving forward on other action that could be taken.”

Board President Juleigh Chin responded by saying that the board and the HTA have been actively engaged in negotiations for a new contract for about a year.

“The board, which is represented by the district’s labor attorney, has been very involved in the negotiations process throughout,” she said in a statement released by the district. “As mutually agreed upon, the Board of Education and the HTA will now be moving on to a process called fact-finding wherein the parties will receive further assistance to reach an amicable settlement.”

She said the Public Employment Relations Board appoints a neutral party as fact-finder who hears the positions of both parties.

“The Board of Education remains committed to reaching a fair contract settlement with the HTA and reiterates that it respects and values all teachers in the district. The board is hopeful that the next step in the process will result in an equitable resolution to this matter for all involved,” Chin said.

Meanwhile, the board meeting opened with the administration announcing that two Herricks High School students were winners of the National Merit Scholarship out of the 10 Herricks students who were named as National Merit finalists in February. The winners will be publicly announced in May. Additionally, the district for at least the third consecutive year was named one of the best communities for music education by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation.

The board meeting focused on the school district’s proposed budget for 2019-2020, anticipating a spending increase of 2.75 percent and an increased tax levy of 2.21 percent, which is within the tax cap for the district, Assistant Superintendent for Business Lisa Rutkoske said.

Superintendent Fino Celano said the budget maintains all academic programs and subjects and extracurricular activities. He said the achievement levels of Herricks students are among the highest “of any district on Long Island, in New York state and the nation.” Additionally, the district has one of the lowest expenditures per pupil among similar high-achieving districts, he said.

The total proposed budget is $117.5 million, an increase of $3.2 million over the current year. Student programs account for $88.1 million or 75 percent of the spending, capital spending for facilities is proposed at $16.8 million or 14 percent, and administration costs are $12.7 million or 11 percent.

Current enrollment of 3,980 is down by 2 percent from last year but is expected to be steady for 2019-2020, Celano said.

Property taxes account for the most of the district’s revenue, while state aid is the second largest source of funding, but provides only 10 percent of the total. Aid is expected to increase by 4.5 percent, mostly based on expenses. The so-called foundation aid that is determined by a state formula is slated to increase by only $27,564 or 0.4 percent.

The aid formula was devised in 2007 and suspended the following year because of the 2008 financial crisis. The district estimates that the state is underfunding its own formula for Herricks by $5.5 million, Rutkoske said, and the district still has to comply with unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments.

Rutkoske noted that the presented budget was a “draft work in progress.”  Further discussions will be held at a meeting on April 4 when the board will adopt the budget. A budget hearing will be held May 9 and the vote is May 21.

Members of Girl Scout Troop 1434 were on hand for the public comment section of the meeting. Troop Leader Madeline Svitak explained that the Scouts – 5th graders from Center Street School – came to the meeting prepared to ask questions of the board as part of the requirements for their government badge. “They brainstormed the questions and came up with some issues,” Svitak said, such as “why do we have to take state tests?”

Celano said the federal government requires the tests and “if done well they give us an idea of how you are doing. I know it’s stressful.”

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Elizabeth Guercin added an upbeat comment: “The tests are getting better.”

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