Turner slams teachers’ lack of flexibility

Turner slams teachers’ lack of flexibility

In an escalating war of words with the teachers union, Herricks Board of Education President Christine Turner said last Thursday that the board had made three separate offers to the Herricks Teachers Association last year in a bid to reopen contract discussions and avoid the elimination of teaching positions in the 2012-13 school budget.

But, Turner said, the teachers association rejected each offer without offering any alternatives.

“Each counter offer was rejected without compromise, and the HTA simply reiterated their original offer without modification. In other words, the HTA simply wanted the board to accept their offer as proposed,” Turner said. 

Turner said the three counter offers to the teacher included a “hard freeze” on salaries for the 2012-13 or the 2013-14 school year or both in exchange for a two-year contract extension sought by the teachers sought; acceptance of the teachers’ proposal except for the proposed contract extension; and acceptance of the teachers’ proposal for 2012-13 only, allowing each side to see how the state-mandated tax cap and economy would impact the district in 2013-14.

The Herricks school board has eliminated 49 teaching positions in the district over the past two years due to budget pressures and the proposed 2013-14 budget calls for eliminating 17 teaching positions at a savings of $2.1 million in salary and benefits. School officials said the district needs to cut $3.18 million from its preliminary budget to remain within the state-mandated tax cap in the 2013-14 school budget. 

Turner’s statement last Thursday followed the reading of a statement read Herricks 

Teachers Association President Jane Morales at the board meeting a week earlier, emphasizing the teachers’ intransigence to negotiate terms 

Both statements revealed previously undisclosed information about what happened during last year’s unsuccessful talks to revise the district teachers contract.

Before reading her statement, Turner said “I just wanted to respond” to Morales’ statement, which included an assertion that the teachers had offered to halve the 3 percent salary hikes they were due in the final two years of their existing pact and receive a 1 percent salary increases in addition to step increases in a two-year contract extension. 

Turner confirmed Morales’s assertion that the Herricks teachers had offered a deal that would have saved the district $2.8 million over two years.

“Those savings would certainly have helped, but a number of aspects of the proposal were deemed by the board to be unacceptable,” Turner said.

She said the two-year extension the Herricks teachers sought in exchange for salary concessions in the remaining two years of their contract would have prevented the board from addressing other important issues until 2016.

Turner said proposed salary increases of 1.5 percent plus deferred “step” increases the teachers sought – instead of the 3 percent annual salary increases they were due in the last two years of their existing pact – were beyond those agreed to by other Herricks bargaining units that Turner said had “promptly agreed to salary concessions” in spring 2011.

She said those 1.5 percent increases were also beyond those negotiated in comparable districts at the same time.

Although the board wanted to reach a compromise with teachers “to find savings and preserve jobs and programs,” Turner said, the cost of acceding to the teachers’ position would simply have cost too much. 

Turner said the board “was not willing to sacrifice the future for short-term gains.”

The board had originally approached then-HTA president Craig Lagnese about revamping the teachers’ contract in the fall of 2011. He fell sick and died suddenly shortly after, before the two sides ever met. Turner and board Vice President Jim Gounaris subsequently made a succession of proposals, including the counter offers Turner specified.

Turner’s statement included a re-reading of the statement she read last spring when the talks between the teachers and the board broke down. 

At the time, she said the Herricks teachers had offered “substantially less” than what was negotiated with neighboring school districts in agreements reached with teachers in Great Neck, East Williston and Jericho.

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