Mineola teachers, officials to continue contract talks

Mineola teachers, officials to continue contract talks

The Mineola school board has accepted recommendations for a new contract with its teachers union, but the union has rejected them.

An independent fact-finder recommended increased annual raises, increased health insurance contributions by the teachers and cuts to the number of sick and personal days to 12 from 20 to fit the district’s budgetary restrictions.

The deal reflects some concessions by the district, but not with regard to the sick and personal days, which teachers have “abused,” said John Gross, an attorney for the school district.

Wages, health care and other costs continue to rise while the state cap on property tax increases constrains the district’s ability to raise revenue, he said.

“I’m not trying to hurt teachers,” said Michael Nagler, the district superintendent. “… Everyone that comes here is jealous. We have people coming from all over the place — they want to work here. Now what I want to do is make sure it stays that way.”

At least 40 of 300 Mineola Teachers Association members attended the meeting to oppose the new plan, which they view as unreasonable.

Rosemary Townley, the fact-finder, made the recommendations in November after mediated negotiations failed to produce a compromise, Nagler said.

The current contract expired in June 2015, said Teresa Perrotta Hafner, the president of the union.

Currently, 78.1 percent of the district’s revenue from property taxes goes directly to wages, Gross said.

Townley’s recommended increasing teachers’ contributions to their health insurance plans from 15 percent to 19 percent over three years.

The district’s total salary payments to teachers should rise by 0.5 percent of the district’s total base payroll for all teachers, about $30.4 million, in addition to the current annual increase of 1.1 percent, according to the recommendations.

Half the district’s teachers are in the second-highest union category, making at least $77,483 annually, according to Gross’ presentation.

Reducing the number of allowed days off is important to the district because it has paid an average of nearly $2,100 per day for substitutes in the past two years, Gross’ presentation said. On average, teachers took 11 days off in the most recent school year.

Hafner disputed the assertion that teachers abuse days off. She said a 40 percent reduction in sick and personal days effectively gives each teacher two to three days paid leave in a profession where illness is common.

The increase in health insurance contributions would effectively negate wage increments for newer hires, Hafner said.

“Sadly, this Board of Education is sending a loud and clear message to its teachers. That message is that teachers are not valued,” Hafner said.

Negotiations are now entering a second round of mediated talks with a different mediator, Nagler said.

Nagler has made an offer to the teachers and is waiting to hear their response, he said.

Also at the meeting, the school board agreed to promote the Mineola Middle School principal, Matthew Gaven, to replace the retiring Patricia Burns as the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, assessment and technology.

Gaven’s appointment will be finalized at the next school board meeting on Dec. 22.

By Lorraine Ballero and Noah Manskar

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