The Warwick School Committee is ready to agree on a new mediated contract, which would end over two years of bitter disputes between the school administration and the Warwick Teachers’ Union (WTU). However, the union maintained on Wednesday that it is simply ready to return to the negotiating table, not commit to a deal brokered by mediation that still doesn’t address some key areas of concern.
The school committee voted 4-1 in support (with Karen Bachus opposed) on Tuesday night to accept a mediated contract agreement that was proposed following a meeting on Friday, July 7 with independent mediator, Vincent F. Ragosta, and Mayor Scott Avedisian.
The deal, if agreed to by the union, “would provide teachers with 3 percent pay raises each year in 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20” and would include compromises on teacher evaluations, after-school meetings, the filling of coaching positions by seniority, report card grading systems, sick days, common planning time, staff reductions and class sizes.
“After two long years and many hundreds of hours spent at the table, we have a settlement that I think is fair,” Beth Furtado, Chair of the Warwick School Committee said in a statement. “The district didn't get everything they wanted, the union didn't either and in the end I believe it's something that we can all work with. I appreciate the efforts Mayor Avedisian and Vin Ragosta put forth in assisting in this process. We need to move forward from here.”
However a press release sent out by the Teachers’ Union on Wednesday shed doubts that this mediated agreement would lead to the long-awaited final form of a new contract.
“In a letter dated July 3, 2017 and sent to both the Warwick Teachers’ Union and the Warwick School Committee, mediators Vincent Ragosta and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian state the following, ‘We fully realize that some further negotiation will take place on finances and perhaps some other subject matters,’” said Darlene Netcoh, President of the Warwick Teachers’ Union, in the release.
“The Warwick Teachers’ Union Executive Board reviewed the non-binding advisory opinions of mediators Ragosta and Avedisian and agreed that, while the mediators’ findings brought the parties closer together, there are still a number of issues that are unresolved and need to be negotiated,” Netcoh continued.
Those unresolved issues, according to the press release, include but are not limited to: “language that governs class size and the assignment of special education teachers to classes with students who need extra support.”
“The needs of students are of paramount importance to teachers, and this language needs to be finalized before the WTU Executive Board takes the advisory opinions of the mediators to the membership,” said Netcoh. “The WTU stands ready to resume mediation/negotiations.”
The press release from the union also called into question why the school committee has refused the union’s offer to make terms – offered by an impartial mediator stemming from statutory interest arbitrations – binding. The two sides had met in statutory interest arbitration 16 times between December of 2015 and January of 2017.
“Every taxpayer in Warwick should wonder why the Warwick School Committee would reject the neutral arbitrator’s decision, after they and the superintendent are the ones who chose this route and have spent a year and a half and close to a quarter of a million dollars on interest arbitration,” said Netcoh.
Superintendent Philip Thornton stated in the administration’s press release that the ultimate goal in these negotiations should remain clear.
“Like any negotiation, one side get some things it wants and the other side gets some things it wants,” Thornton said. “In reviewing the overall mediator’s award, I think this is fair and equitable, and more importantly, allows us to focus all of our attention on our mission – educating students.”