The Mount Pleasant teacher’s union is threatening to end block scheduling at Westlake High School for next year unless the district agrees to provide additional pay to the teachers.
In a Mar. 3 e-mail sent to district residents, the board of education stated that block scheduling at the high school was at risk of being scuttled for 2017-18.
“Based on the initial exchange of proposals between the Board and the MPTA (Mount Pleasant Teachers Association), we appear to be heading into a lengthy negotiation,” the school board stated. “The Board is deeply concerned that the MPTA’s refusal to agree to the continuation of the Block Schedule for the 2017/18 school year (and beyond) until such time as the parties reach an agreement. This means that the district will be unable to continue this vital academic program.”
Under block scheduling, classes meet for a longer period of time but students do not take each subject every school day.
“We are very disappointed that the teacher’s union has placed the block on the bargaining table as if it is just another chip to haggle over. Well, it is not and it shouldn’t be,” Board of Education President Christopher Pinchiaroli said as part of a prepared at the Mar. 8 board meeting.
In his statement, Pinchiaroli said when block scheduling was implemented a few years ago, district officials noticed language in the contract limiting teaching time to a maximum of 126 minutes without a break. As a result, the district and the union agreed to provide additional pay and support to the impacted teachers, Pinchiaroli said.
That was completed in a side letter, but the union would not agree to a permanent change in the contract. That letter expires June 30.
In January when the two sides met to start negotiating a new contract, the union informed the district that without a new contract, there won’t be block scheduling, Pinchiaroli said.
Given the district’s finances and how far apart the two sides are, it’s increasingly likely there won’t be a new contract in place by June 30, he said.
If the district provided additional pay to teachers to continue block scheduling, other areas would have to be cut, including afterschool activities, sports, student transportation and teaching staff. Otherwise, the district would likely exceed the tax cap, he said.
“If you think that it’s okay to hold the block hostage, I ask you what is the ransom amount and how does it get paid?” Pinchiaroli said.
MPTA President Virginia Campbell said a board of education meeting was “not the correct forum” to negotiate contracts. Under state law, scheduling is part of contract negotiations, she said.
“We the teachers are not against the block scheduling,” Campbell said. “As a matter of fact, I went to the district early on in September and I said let’s start these discussions now so we don’t end up in a place later where we’re dealing with this in the spring and there’s a big mess and it impacts the community. This should not have impacted the community. This should have been settled in the past.”
The MPTA’s 217 members include teachers, teaching assistants and school nurses.
Trustee John Piazza told teachers, “you’ve all done a tremendous job,” but the district is in a tough position financially.
“We’re in a hole,” he said. “When you’re in a hole and you don’t have it, you don’t spend it.”
Piazza said additional discussions are needed.
“There’s no need to fight. There’s no money in the budget for an increase,” he said. “Let’s figure something else out.”
Westlake Middle School teacher John Messemer, a nearly 30-year district veteran, said he and his colleagues are dedicated, often arriving early and staying late to help students.
Messemer said he was discouraged to hear Pinchiaroli make block scheduling “the defining thing to prove whether we put kids first.” In addition to the extra hours, teachers take professional development classes to improve their skills and buy school supplies on their own without reimbursement.
“That’s putting students first,” he said.
Steve Pesick, a 32-year educator who is part of the union’s negotiating team, said despite the union reaching out to the district in September, passing a capital projects bond was the district’s first priority and teachers worked to help get the bond approved, he said. The union then made a contract offer in December, he said.
“This offer, we thought, was respectful of the needs of students, community members and of our union,” Pesick said.
The union sought to add block scheduling to the contract rather than having it as part of a side letter agreement, Pesick said. The district declined the union’s offer in January, he said. Subsequently, the sides had negotiation sessions in February and before a recent school board meeting. Further talks have been scheduled.
“We are still hopeful that we can get this block scheduling and contract figured out before the end of the school year. We have only begun negotiations,” Pesick said.
Terry Fowler, a former trustee and a current school bus driver, said the community values its teachers but resources are tight.
“You are up there in salaries in Westchester County,” Fowler said. “And I think that shows that when we had it we gave it you. But we don’t have it and we can’t give it to you. It’s not the block schedule that we’re taking about.”
Fowler called on teachers to sign the side letter to allow block scheduling to continue next year. If the district reverted to a nine-period schedule, some teachers would need to be laid off, she warned.