Teachers Cut Back On ‘Extras’ Until New Contract Is Signed
By: Michael J. Rausch
It has been 424 days...and counting.
That is how long school teachers in Sandwich have been working without a contract. The exact number is being printed daily in newspaper ads being taken out by the Sandwich teachers’ union.
The ad is part of the union’s efforts to draw attention to their lack of a contract. In addition to the ads, teachers in all grade levels within the Sandwich Public Schools are cutting back on their involvement in extracurricular student activities.
In a letter composed by the union’s crisis committee, and dated Friday, October 21, 2011, all union members are being asked to “cease volunteering in activities for which you have not signed a contract. These activities include both paid and unpaid volunteering.” Some of the activities teachers are being advised not to volunteer for include science fairs, book fairs, fundraisers, field trips, mentor groups, chaperoning and school council. The letter further explains the rationale for the actions being taken by the union, saying they are “designed to support our negotiating team and activate the School Committee to take care of business and to be respectful of the union.”
For union president Laura R. Carlyle, respect is at the very center of the impasse between the union and the Sandwich School Committee. “It is not about the contract,” Ms. Carlyle said, “it is about the absence of a contract.”
She said while she continues to be hopeful that a resolution can be reached soon, she has never seen negotiations stretch out this long, more than two years.
In February 2010, then-School Superintendent Mary Ellen Johnson told the Sandwich Board of Selectmen that the school budget she and the school committee came up with for the coming fiscal year was dependent on the teachers’ union falling in line with the non-school unions by agreeing to a pay freeze. Dr. Johnson warned the union that holding out for salary increases would mean laying off teachers. While the Sandwich School Committee was able to reach agreements with the other school unions on new contracts that involved a freeze in salaries, the committee and the teachers’ union hit an impasse that has yet to be resolved.
In April 2010, the Sandwich School Committee voted unanimously to bring in a mediator from the Massachusetts Division of Labor Relations when it was determined that both sides could not come to an agreement. That mediator is still assigned to the negotiations, but, more than two years later, there is still no resolution, and teachers entered the 2011-2012 school year with their salaries frozen at last year’s levels.
Current Sandwich School Superintendent C. Richard Canfield said teachers are still abiding by the conditions of a contract that ran out in June 2010. That contract was settled in 2007, after nearly two years of negotiations, but not until eight months after the previous contract had expired.
During that eight-month period without a new contract, teachers continued working under the terms of the old contract while their salaries remained frozen. Teachers were then paid retroactively for the salary increases they won during those contract negotiations.
According to Dr. Canfield, the teachers’ current contract does require teachers to provide extra help, and he is confident the teachers will do that.
“We have many, many teachers who are very giving and very professional,” Dr. Canfield said, “so I believe they are doing what they can to find the right balance to sending a message and to be mindful they have children in their classrooms they need to respond to.”
Dr. Canfield also said he is sympathetic to the plight of the teachers and, like Ms. Carlyle, is hopeful for a speedy resolution to the negotiations.
“I do understand their frustration,” he said, “and I can assure them everyone in the Sandwich Public Schools is eager to see a resolution as quickly as possible.”
Similarly, Ms. Carlyle said the teachers will abide by the hours stipulated by the contract.
Ms. Carlyle said while she feels the decision by the teachers to cut back on volunteerism is justified, given the lack of a contract, it will not affect their work with students.
“We don’t intend for it to affect the jobs we do every day in the classrooms. We have continued to do everything possible to make it an excellent educational experience for our kids.”
Parents contacted by the Enterprise this week said their students, so far, have not suffered because of the union’s decision to cease non-contractual volunteerism at the school. One parent, however, worried what the action might mean to high school seniors waiting for letters of recommendation for their early decision college applications.
When asked about the ongoing negotiations, Sandwich School Committee Chairman Shaun P. Cahill refused to comment, saying, “I don’t conduct negotiations through the press.”
Mr. Cahill also refused to comment on the ad appearing in newspapers or the actions now being taken by the teachers.