The Westhampton Beach Teachers Association, the union representing the district’s nearly 200 educators, has rejected a hard salary freeze requested by Board of Education members—a move they said would have saved the district more than $1 million next year and preserved all current teaching positions and programming.
Susan Kearns announced late last week that the union would not agree to the board’s terms, even though that decision will most likely result in the district laying off at least a dozen teachers to stay under the state tax levy cap. She attended Monday night’s board meeting and stated that the district has rejected two proposals pitched by the union in recent weeks that would have helped close the budget gap.
Ms. Kearns, who was supported by approximately 30 teachers and parents who were sitting in the audience, said her union members cannot be asked to accept an across-the-board salary freeze next year, and she blamed Board of Education members for contributing to the economic hardship by not taking their proposed deals.
On Monday, the board announced approximately $90,000 in cuts to the athletic program, nearly $13,000 in club costs, and another $32,000 in transportation costs. The district is also planning to combine classes and cut teachers. It still needs to shed several hundred thousand dollars in expenditures if it does not want to pierce the cap.
“What is important to note is that some of the programming cuts that may ensue are fully beyond our control and are not dependent upon the teachers taking a hard freeze,” Ms. Kearns said while reading a prepared statement on Monday. “There are indications that the district may make program changes that would result in program cuts regardless of what teachers may or may not agree to.”
Last week, Ms. Kearns said the teachers still want to work with the district to bridge the budget gap, but without a complete freeze of teacher salaries and step increases. Next year, district teachers are scheduled to receive a 2-percent increase in salary and an average 3.5-percent increase in steps—for a combined 5.5-percent increase.
But according to Board of Education President Suzanne Mensch, the savings from the proposals offered by the teachers union—which only included some cuts in salaries and steps—is far from what the district would be saving with a hard freeze. She also pointed out that the teachers are seeking to extend their contract, which expires in June 2014, as part of their proposals, and explained that the board is not in a position to extend the union contract at this time, citing the issues arising from the tax levy cap.
District administrators, janitors and clerical workers have already agreed to similar across-the-board salary freezes for next year, though those will only save the district a fraction of what could be saved if the teachers accepted a similar one-year agreement.
Ms. Mensch again stressed that the district is in a difficult position, stating that all of the forthcoming cuts will be painful.
“While I don’t have someone who is taking Latin or American Sign Language right now, I do have someone in the high school who is taking art,” Ms. Mensch said, alluding to some of the coming cuts. “I have children in the middle school who participate in middle school sports, and I have elementary students that will be facing bigger class sizes as a result of some of these discussions.
“These have real impacts to me and I want you all to hear that, that I am not taking these lightly by any means,” she continued.
On Wednesday, Schools Superintendent Michael Radday explained that, just like the other unions that have agreed to the freeze, the teachers union was offered a “job security provision in exchange for a salary freeze.”
“Specifically, the board guaranteed it would maintain all full-time, encumbered teaching positions for 2013/14 if the union agreed to the freeze,” Mr. Radday wrote. “The stumbling block has been that every proposal presented by the teachers included a contract extension with terms that would exceed the constraints of the tax cap. The board cannot put itself in a position where compensation costs will outpace the allowable tax levy growth over the long term, because doing so would require ongoing program cuts in order to pay for salaries and benefits.”
The board is expected to adopt its proposed 2013-14 budget sometime in April, and the public referendum is in May.
On Monday night, Mr. Radday outlined where the district is looking to make cuts if an agreement cannot be reached with the teachers union, as now seems to be the case. Before diving in, he stressed that the district does not want to make the cuts, explaining that its hands are essentially tied.