The Examiner

P’ville Teachers Union Contract Talks Reach Stalemate With District

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The Teachers Association of Pleasantville took to the streets of downtown Pleasantville last Wednesday to bring attention to the public that they have been working this school year with an expired contract.
The Teachers Association of Pleasantville took to the streets of downtown Pleasantville last Wednesday to bring attention to the public that they have been working this school year with an expired contract.

More than 50 members of the Pleasantville teachers union marched through the village’s downtown last Wednesday afternoon to stress to the community that they have been working under an expired contract since last year.

The Teachers Association of Pleasantville (TAP) started its walk at the Mount Pleasant Public Library on Bedford Road, proceeded to Memorial Plaza, Washington Avenue and Wheeler Avenue before returning to the library during the 45-minute effort. Union members, dressed in black t-shirts with green lettering, hope the public display of unity will help jumpstart contract negotiations, which have reached an impasse, and make the public aware of their plight.

TAP President Lorraine Kearney said salaries for many Pleasantville teachers haven’t increased since 2011. Although educators with up to 15 years experience continue to receive pay raises through step increases provided under the state’s Triborough Amendment, veteran teachers’ salaries have lagged, she said.

“So even though people are getting their steps, the salary schedule itself has been stagnant for all these years,” Kearney said. “So what we’re looking for is a percentage increase to the salary schedule.”

The roughly 220-member union represents teacher assistants, librarians, guidance counselors and school psychologists in addition to teachers at Pleasantville’s three schools. The previous contract expired June 30, 2015.

While Kearney wouldn’t disclose specific numbers, she said the union is seeking “a very small percentage” increase. She also intimated that issues related to healthcare coverage are also being disputed.

She said union members understand the fiscal pressures facing school districts, including Pleasantville, as a result of the tax cap. However, Kearney, a 15-year Pleasantville High School biology teacher, said the district found the money to give administrators raises of about 1.9 percent.

The union isn’t asking for anything more than what the district can afford, Kearney maintained.

“The feeling is everybody at the top is getting raises and there’s nothing left for the teachers,” she said.

Last week Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter and Board of Education President Shane McGaffey said they value the efforts and contributions made by the district’s dedicated faculty.

But Fox-Alter said the mandated costs of paying for the step increases and maintaining health care costs, about $300,000 this year in Pleasantville, is above the cap and unsustainable long term.

The district received one-time assistance this spring when the state did away with the remainder of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a decrease in contributions to the teachers’ pension and a favorable growth factor, she said.

“This is a conversation about the math,” Fox-Alter said. “So if you have costs that are mandated via Triborough that exceed the amount with the cap, mathematically how does that work moving forward?”

McGaffey said that between 60 and 65 percent of the district’s teachers are currently on step, which is in line with most Westchester districts. Although teachers who are off step receive no increase, the pay hikes this year averaged more than 2 percent per teacher, which is higher than the administrators’ increases, he said.

McGaffey said there is a finite amount of money the district can offer and the board of education will not present a budget that exceeds the tax cap because it would need at least 60 percent approval from the public.

“We have a cap and we can’t exceed that cap,” McGaffey said. “We don’t believe it would be possible to pass a budget that’s above the cap. We believe we’re offering what this community can afford.”

The union has also been rankled because of the unresponsiveness by district officials to their proposals, Kearney said. There have been between 10 and 15 different proposals submitted to the district but all have been ignored or rejected, she said.

Kearney said in recent contracts when the economy was poor, the union agreed to step freezes and deferments, she said.

“We’ve made a lot of concessions and we’re tired of carrying the burden,” said Kearney

However, McGaffey said there have been relatively few bargaining sessions during the school year. He hopes both sides can soon sit down and work out a new agreement.

“We really want to sit down and have this conversation and work this out, and we want to work with the teachers because they’re important to us, and we would hope they will come to the table and sit down and do everything possible to try and resolve this, not just for us but for the community, the sake of the students and also for themselves,” McGaffey said.




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