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Feb 20, 2012 12:32 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Remsenburg-Speonk Teachers Still Working Without New Contract

Feb 21, 2012 4:23 PM

Teachers at the Remsenburg-Speonk School District, who have been working without a contract for the past eight months, will most likely have to wait until after next year’s budget is adopted before receiving a new accord.

Kevin Federico, the president of the district’s Board of Education, said this week that his board’s first priority is to put together a spending plan for the 2012-13 school year, a process that has already been complicated by a new state law that places a 2 percent cap on the tax levy. He explained that a new contract for the district’s estimated three dozen teachers will play a large role in formulating next year’s budget.

“We have to be thoughtful of their contribution to our children and we have to be sure that [teachers] are compensated fairly,” Mr. Federico said when asked about ongoing negotiations with representatives of the Remsenburg-Speonk Teachers’ Association. “It’s been an ongoing good-faith negotiation,” he added. “This is a time we have to deal with a 2 percent cap and we are having difficulty maintaining programs.”

School officials have declined to share a draft of the proposed 2012-13 spending plan; this year, the district is working within a $12.2 million budget.

More than a dozen teachers sat in silence during last week’s Board of Education meeting, held on February 13. No one publicly addressed the board at that time.

Dana Andreoli and Tricia Cilento, the co-presidents of the teachers’ union, did not return several calls and emails seeking comment on the contract negotiations.

School Superintendent Dr. Ronald Masera said Friday that the district wants to provide for a fair settlement, one that respects the value of the teachers but also takes into account the fact that times are very difficult given the changes in the law.

“There are many costs that are not within our control, such as tuition, health care, pension contributions, etc. …” Dr. Masera said. “Working under a 2 percent cap means that it is more important than ever to control those costs with which we have some control.”

Still, he remains hopeful that the district and its teachers’ union could reach a settlement soon, possibly before the adoption of the 2012-13 budget in April. “However, barring a settlement,” he added, “we would need to include any possible increase representative of what we foresee the district’s ability to pay, [while] factoring in the current budget circumstances.”

Potential sticking points in the negotiation process could be health care contributions and salary increases. In the last four years of their now expired five-year contract, teachers had 93 percent of their individual coverage and 90 percent of their family coverage paid by the district. Also, the 2010-11 salary scale included step increases for years of service and education, along with 3 percent base salary increases. That contract expired on June 30, 2011.

Recent changes in the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) law is also complicating contract negotiations in many school districts. The law requires districts to annually evaluate the performances of all teachers, including tenured ones. Just last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo brokered a deal between the New York State Education Department and the New York State Union of Teachers to implement revisions to the APPR plan that include tying a portion of teacher evaluations to test scores.

Schools have to submit their revised APPR plans to the State Education Department no later than January 30, 2013, or face the loss of a 4 percent increase in state aid. As a result, the new provisions will be a significant factor in finalizing new contracts between teachers and school districts across the state.

Dr. Masera, who explained that the ongoing contract negotiations must remain confidential, said district officials have been working separately on the new teachers contract and the APPR. He added that he is confident that the APPR language will be finalized within the next couple of months.

“We appreciate all of your hard work and we know you are all dedicated,” Mr. Federico told those teachers in attendance during last week’s School Board meeting. “Hopefully, we will get all of this resolved fairly quickly.”

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