In a quick vote that went undetected by those not attuned to School Committee procedures, the committee approved Tuesday night what could be a path to a teachers contract.
The 4 to 1 vote was to accept the proposal offering teachers 3 percent wage increases for the next three years as mediated by Vincent Ragosta and Mayor Scott Avedisian. The 3 percent offer is no different than what the committee put on the table about a year ago, which raises the question why would the union accept the terms this times if they didn’t do so last time?
A lot has happened between then and now.
In brief, two processes have been ongoing – arbitration and mediation.
Interest arbitration, where the sides define the issues and an arbitrator hears arguments from both sides, has been completed. The arbitrator is reportedly prepared to render his positions on those issues that the parties have not been able to agree upon.
At the same time, the committee and union have been engaged in mediation. That has not been a smooth process. After the committee stepped away from mediation, Avedisian intervened, asking that he join the talks. He did that around the first of the year and has been engaged in the process ever since, in fact, he has assumed Ragosta’s role as facilitator when Ragosta could not be present.
According to a release issued by the committee, in addition to the salary package, expected to cost $2.4 million in the first year, other issues mediated to compromise include evaluations, after school meetings, the filling of coaching positions by seniority, report card grading systems, sick days, common planning time, staff reductions, and class size.
Time has also played a role in this process. The prolonged unsettlement has cast a pall over Warwick schools, inhibiting cooperation between teachers and administrators and affecting what is happening in the classroom and the students. It has made for a black eye that neither schools nor the city deserve.
We’re ready for this to be resolved.
But while the committee’s vote, especially seeing it was based on a proposal largely molded by Ragosta and the mayor, sparked hopes that finally this chapter can be closed, the union is not prepared to agree.
The stumbling block, according to sources, is the absence of retro-active pay increases for the two years the teachers have been without a contract. Publicly, the union is saying “language that governs class size and the assignment of special education teachers to classes with students who need extra support,” is the hang up. There is no mention of retroactive pay increases.
It’s difficult to weigh in on what is a fair resolution without knowing the facts or the impact of the parties’ different positions. For instance, if the union is looking for retroactive pay increases of 3 percent for the last two years, by our rough calculations the first year of a contract would cost taxpayers an additional $7 million. Likewise, what is the projected impact of language changes espoused by the union?
We urge the parties to self-impose a deadline and return to mediation. And if that fails, then they should be prepared to accept the terms of interest arbitration.