Union, School District talks still dragging, impasse seems even more likely than before

skinney@keynoter.comJanuary 15, 2014 

In the run-up to a Tuesday meeting of the Monroe County School Board where a teacher contract was to be discussed, teachers union President Holly Hummell-Gorman sent her membership a missive accusing the board of holding teacher raises "hostage."

Representing the United Teachers of Monroe, Hummell-Gorman has been negotiating a one-year contract for teachers and school-related personnel since April, first with Superintendent Mark Porter and then, beginning in December, with labor attorney Bob Norton.

The primary sticking point is language in the contract that would allow the School Board to unilaterally institute unpaid furloughs. Until that's worked out and a deal struck, the district can't divvy up $1.2 million in funding earmarked for teacher pay raises.

"This is the language the School Board invoked in order to gut your paychecks for the past two years," Hummell-Gorman said in the letter sent Friday to UTM members.

"The only thing that could facilitate a potential agreement at this point would be a change in the School Board's position. Barring that, UTM will likely need to move to impasse and seek a remedy for its members through proper legal channels."

Board member John Dick said the furlough language has been in teacher contracts "since the 1970s. We used it under extraordinary circumstances."

Using unpaid furloughs, the district cut more than $13 million in spending from between 2010 and 2012, with savings of $1.7 million per year derived from the mandatory seven-day furloughs.

"We want to keep it," Dick said of the language, "so we have an option of not firing people. Without that language, we would've had to fire teachers. The board would rather have it done this way."

This round of bargaining is for a one-year contract retroactive to June that covers the district's 525 teachers and 114 school-related personnel like bus drivers and food-service workers.

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