Herricks flunks teachers’ offer

Herricks flunks teachers’ offer

The Herricks Teachers Association made the Herricks Board of Education an offer of salary concessions it could refuse last week, and that’s what the board did.

In the process, the board drew an angry response from the teachers association, whose president accused the board of negotiating in public.

Herricks School Board president Christine Turner read a statement at last Thursday night’s school board meeting that spelled out a proposal for a modified contract from the teachers, which would have saved the school district approximately $1 million by both sides’ calculations, Turner said.

The proposed deal included $750,000 in HTA givebacks and an estimated $350,000 in savings from retirement incentives. The primary source of savings the HTA proposed was a reduction in the 2.75 percent salary increase during then 2011-12 school year to 1.5 percent.

Turner said the proposal was contingent on the board guaranteeing all HTA jobs and extending the existing teachers’ contract by one year beyond 2013-14 with a 2.25 percent increase in addition to “step” increases mandated by state law.

The board unanimously rejected the offer.

“The proposal we received this week is not just a case of ‘too little, too late’. It is late – far too late – but the reality is that it is extraordinarily out of step with the feelings of this community,” Turner said, adding, “It is also out of step with what bargaining groups in other school districts have done to help their schools and their communities through these difficult times.”

Current contract terms call for 3 percent increases in each of the last two years of the current deal. The HTA also proposed a two-year extension of the contract for secretaries and custodians, which runs for two more years, with 1.8 percent salary hikes in the additional two years and a one-year extension for teaching assistants with a 2.25 percent increase.

Turner pointed out that Craig Lagnese, HTA president, had read a statement about the teachers’ desire for “serious dialogue” at the Jan. 20 board meeting, but had submitted its proposal to board attorney Larry Tenenbaum on March 7.

Turner said the school board estimated the cost of guaranteeing all current HTA positions at $4.2 million above the draft budget based on a 2 percent increase from the current $96.5 million budget. That $4.2 million represents the approximate savings the school district would realize by eliminating 36 teaching positions.

Turner said guaranteeing all HTA positions would be “tying the board’s hands in doing what is necessary in paring the budget.”

The HTA positions include teaching assistants, aides, custodial, clerical, and secretarial workers along with the 400 teachers in the district.

Resident Jim Gounaris, who said he is considering a run for a school board seat, called the union’s response to the current fiscal crunch “inept” and asked Turner to enumerate what the board had asked of the teachers.

She declined to do so.

Herricks Superintendent of Schools John Bierwirth said he supported Turners refusal to discuss the board’s position.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to negotiate in public,” Bierwirth said.

Lagnese said that by revealing the HTA proposal last week the board was negotiating in public.

In a statement released Friday in response to Turner’s prepared remarks, Lagnese said, “The HTA has always bargained with the school board in good faith. Unfortunately, the board has chosen a different path by their public statement last night at the March 10 board meeting. We maintain our respect for the board and the fact that negotiations should never occur in public as they did last night.”

Asked whether the HTA had intended to negotiate with the board any further, Lagnese declined to comment.

But he said, “In looking at Mrs. Turner’s statement, she has basically closed the door.”

After saying that the board was “extremely disappointed” with the HTA at Thursday night’s meeting, Turner revealed that the board had reached an accommodation with the Herricks Association of Administrative Supervisors.

Later in the meeting, Bierwirth said that HAAS had agreed to amend the last three years of its current deal, deferring its step increases.

The result represents a $53,000 savings in the first year and greater savings in each of the succeeding two years, Turner said.

Bierwirth said two administrative positions that are currently vacant will remain unfilled, with work responsibilities to be redistributed.

“Obviously that will save the whole cost of replacing them,” he said. “Every administrator in the district will pick up a portion of the load.”

Bierwirth himself is voluntarily decreasing a 4.5 percent increase in his $265,000 annual salary to 1.5 percent next year.

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