Teachers out on strike in Rhode Island

Burrillville's teachers will not report to their classrooms this morning for what was expected to be the first day of the 2007-2008 school year. The teachers' union leaders announced a strike late last night on the heels of fruitless collective-bargaining negotiations stretching back to late last year. Schools Supt. Steven Welford confirmed last night that the district had canceled today's classes.

The teachers are dissatisfied with contract proposals that, according to a union official, offer too little money and try to change their roles. They also disagreed with proposals to increase limits on class size.

"We wanted to try and get this resolved," said the official, Patrick M. Crowley, assistant executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island. "We've invested the time and effort into trying to get a deal that would work. It's not a matter of one group walking away," he added. "It's a matter of two sides that can't reach a deal."

The union's representatives have negotiated with representatives of the School Committee on various occasions since last November.

The talks have been intense since Friday.

On Monday, the union membership, numbering 203 teachers, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike should their union leaders deem it necessary.

The teachers then went to work as scheduled on Monday and again yesterday in anticipation of a breakthrough that would head off a strike.

However, both sides seemed to be anticipating a standoff late yesterday afternoon.

A lawyer representing the school district - which educates about 2,700 students - advised parents to log onto the district's Web site (www.bsd-ri.net) and tune into local television news channels to see if the first day of school would be delayed.

Any change in the opening of school would be treated as a snow day, he said.

The same lawyer, Benjamin M. Scungio, issued a news release that sought to reinforce the district’s commitment to continued negotiations.

"The school committee fully supports its teachers and the good work they do in the educational interests of the children in the town of Burrillville," Scungio wrote. "The school committee is grateful that the teachers continue to perform their professional duties even though we have yet to achieve an agreement."

Scungio's release says the school system wants to reform the existing contract in a way that allows greater cost-sharing of health care and other benefits and creates "efficiencies within the contract to free-up additional money."

Crowley was less specific when he was asked to identify sticking points in the negotiations.

"Management is asking for things they can't afford to buy this year," he said.

The system wants to change the role of teachers from professionals to staffers who take direction, Crowley said. He declined to elaborate.

Scungio cited the town's limited ability "to meet union financial requests" as an issue in the contract negotiations.

For example, a new state regulation requires high school teachers to spend 330 minutes per day in instructional time, the release says.

The requirement forced the district to hire five new teachers at a cost of more than $300,000, but the state did not supply any financial aid to help the district pay for the additional cost, according to Scungio.

The highest paid teacher earns $66,000 a year in the Burrillville system, Crowley said. A teacher on the first step earns about $34,000, he said.

He rated that pay scale between the 16th and 19th highest in the state.

Language in the existing contract could add a twist to any legal wrangling in the event of a strike.

The existing contract expires Friday, but it also stipulates that teachers must work no more than 181 school days, according to Crowley.

The teachers logged their 181st day of work on the last day of school in the spring, he said. Thus, they are under no contractual obligation to report to work, he said.

He acknowledged that the school system interprets the contract differently. The schools’ lawyer, Scungio, was not available to comment on the issue yesterday afternoon.

Welford was uncertain about the prospects of school opening tomorrow.

"We don't know," he said. "Obviously there’s process. We will go through that process."

He promised that the system would explain its plans in a news release today.


No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails