After a hiatus prompted by the fact that there was no sign of progress, mediation between the Warwick Teachers Union and the School Committee has resumed, but with a twist. For the first time in the protracted effort to reach a contract, Mayor Scott Avedisian has a seat at the table.
Avedisian and Superintendent Philip Thornton were mum on whether, or if, any progress was made during the session that lasted more than two hours last Wednesday. Both said at the direction of attorney Vincent Ragosta, who is acting as mediator, they would not be talking about developments.
In an email, Ragosta confirmed the mayor’s presence, adding that his “attendance was welcomed by all participants and he [the mayor] has encouraged the parties to continue their hard work to forge compromise.”
Ragosta said additional mediation sessions are scheduled this week and next.
“Mayor Avedisian’s neutral input has been constructive, and I remain hopeful that the mediation process will be productive,” he said.
This is a departure from Ragosta’s take last fall when School Committee Chair Beth Furtado said nothing was being accomplished by mediation other than giving the lawyers billable time. Ragosta, in an email to the committee, said the parties were not prepared to back away from their proposals and that their positions were so divergently different that he saw no reason to continue.
Prior to the election, Avedisian offered to join the talks, which was immediately embraced by the School Committee and administration. The union was less enthusiastic but eventually agreed.
At the time the mayor said he thought he could help get the parties beyond some “sticking points” and with agreement on some of the minor issues – limitations on layoffs and the weighting of students based on their individual education programs to determine class size being the major ones – there would be movement.
Thornton said Friday he is a “half the glass full kind of a guy” and is optimistic an agreement can be reached this academic year. He pointed out that arbitration that has been ongoing for about a year is drawing to a close. He said arbitration sessions scheduled for January 24 and 25 should “wrap it up.” He is hopeful arbitrator Michael Ryan will have his findings by spring.
Among issues brought before arbitration were: the use of electronic grading, teacher evaluations, the basis on which teachers have priority in the job fair, weighting, co-op, salaries, department chair evaluation and layoffs. Thornton described arbitration as “fair and efficient,” although it has taken much longer than he first imagined. Arbitration has no binding power on financial matters.