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Contrary to School Board claim, Scarborough teachers union denies deal on salary freeze, has no contract

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Contrary to School Board claim, Scarborough teachers union denies deal on salary freeze, has no contract

SCARBOROUGH — Although the Board of Education announced nearly two months ago that teachers had agreed to freeze salaries, the teachers' bargaining unit says there is no deal and no contract.

In a letter dated June 15,  Scarborough Education Association negotiations team Chairmen Paul Ledman and David O'Connor said they "never agreed to a zero percent salary increase and there never was an agreement with the Scarborough Board of Education to freeze salaries for next year."

The SEA represents about 300 school employees, including teachers, bus drivers and custodians. While the union was "willing" to talk about skipping the raise, it was conditional on "other contractual terms" that were never agreed upon, the letter said.

When asked Wednesday why the union waited so long after the board's announcement to make its statement, O'Connor would only say, "no comment."

He refused to elaborate on anything in the letter or to explain how the teachers would proceed without a contract in the fall.

Board Chairman Brian Dell'Olio said Wednesday that the sticking point with the union was over the number of days teachers would work. They now work 185 days. During negotiations, they pushed for a 180-day work year; the board came back with 183 days, which the union did not accept.

"I think everyone on our side of the table seemed to understand the same thing – there must have been a miscommunication," Dell'Olio said. "We understood it to be that a zero percent cost of living increase was agreed to on both sides. ... They are trying to say the zero increase was contingent on the board going to 180 days."

Under the wage freeze proposal, teachers would still get step raises, which increases their salaries by 2.5 to 3 percent annually for 22 years.

But there are indications that the rift may be more about equal treatment of school and municipal employees. Earlier this spring, councilors challenged unionized school employees to give up their cost-of-living increases, holding up the example of unionized town employees, who they said had agreed to forgo their raises.

"The (school) board has obtained copies of the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with town employees and they are different from what was reported in public and we are studying them," board member Annalee Rosenblatt said. "They seemed to give employees raises, but just delayed their implementation."

Rosenblatt said the board proposed the freeze in a
one-year contract that would "start over again" the following year in response to "a lot of outside influence and pressure in regard to negotiations from the town manager and the (council's) finance committee." She acknowledged it was true that the unionized municipal employees would not have their 3 percent increase for a year, but they would get the raise the last day of the year or the first day of the following year, setting the starting point higher for subsequent salary negotiations.

Town Manager Tom Hall said his "goal was to deliver wage concessions to assist in the next fiscal year."

"I delivered what I needed to for the next fiscal year and I'll take my chances at the negotiating table for the rest of it," he said.

Two of the three municipal unions' contracts – dispatch and police – were in the middle of a three-year cycle that stipulated yearly increases. The fire/EMS contract, due to expire the end of June, was negotiated to stay at a zero percent cost-of-living increase until the last day of the next fiscal year, when employees will receive a 3 percent raise "that has no monetary impact for the one-year contract," Hall said.

Finance Committee Chairman Shawn Babine said he would not look at starting at the 3 percent increase for future negotiations, but would "look at it as what it is today."

"No one has been guaranteed what they are going to get next year," he said.

Babine suggested the School Board has introduced the municipal contracts to "divert attention from the core problem," which he said was the number of days teachers work.

When Town Council Chairman Mike Wood heard about charges of disparity between municipal and school contracts, he said he told Rosenblatt to "go ahead and negotiate a contract similar to what municipal employees had."

The definition of the word, forgo, Wood said, is to "wait for, not do without," and called the concessions a "one-time adjustment."

Contract negotiations between the School Board and SEA will resume this fall. Without a new contract, teachers will work under the terms of the existing contract, Dell'Olio said, working 185 days with no cost of living increase, but with step increases. Though they cannot go on strike under state law, he said, teachers could "work to rule," or be at school only during the hours specified in the contract.

The board was expected to discuss the municipal bargaining agreements in a closed-door session on Thursday, June 18, Rosenblatt said.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net