From the outset the board has recognized that only a few teachers are sick leave abusers. The mediator's proposal included our suggestion of a cap which would have limited the application of this provision to a maximum of one percent or two percent of employees per year. Since our first proposal the board has modified its position so that it is now simply a means to define abuse. Discipline is not a part of the current proposal.
The issue is sick leave abuse. A small number of district teachers have established a pattern of absenteeism; more than 20 days per year in each of several years, the majority of missed days being contiguous with a weekend or vacation. Mere numbers of missed days without a pattern has always been excluded by definition.
Sick leave abuse has an adverse effect on the district in two ways. When we must pay substitute salaries unnecessarily, that money (your tax dollars) in unavailable for desired programs and services. More importantly, patterned abuse has a disproportionate negative impact directly on the students whose teacher is absent. Their learning is interrupted and classroom continuity is lost. Class morale suffers. We are quite powerless to act effectively under the present contract and laws.
In analyzing the current situation and forming your own independent conclusions I hope you will keep the following information in mind and that you will find it helpful.
The Board of Education: we are seven individuals, each a homeowner in the community. There is a long history of community service - particularly to the schools - among board members. We are pro-education. One cannot sustain the effort necessary to do this job - putting in many hours week after week, absent a sincere commitment to the children. We receive no financial compensation. We are your neighbors.
PTA: specifically prohibited (by law) as an organization from taking sides during contract negotiations.
The Teachers: the overwhelming majority are dedicated, skilled professionals who have earned and deserve our respect. They are an integral part of our community.
The Law: provision for disciplining teachers is found in section 3020-a of the Education Law. The process takes at least one year and sometimes two. Cost to the district can easily exceed $100,000.
The Rhetoric: Teachers are working without a contract which is bad for morale and their self esteem. Technically they are without a new contract. However, under the Taylor Law, the provisions of the expired contract remain in full force and effect. Therefore they enjoy all the protection and benefits of the expired contract including the right to representation and participation in shared decision making. In fact most have received a pay raise this year in the form of a step increase.
From a recent letter in the Tribune that was critical of administration and the board and which then referenced academic improvement, "...these student accomplishments were all made possible by the hardworking, dedicated teachers who believe and strive to uphold the district's mission statement of Success for Every Student'. The writer's assessment of teachers' contributions is absolutely correct. Without them classroom success is not possible. They deserve a lot of credit. I think, however, it is fair to note that our current success did not occur overnight. The board of education began to raise the bar years ago.
Critical decisions were made along the way. When necessary, policy was changed, new goals were set and a climate for success was nurtured. Administration was challenged to move the district forward. They answered the call. The community at large answered the call. Voters approved bonds and budgets which allowed us to refurbish and improve facilities. They embraced technology as a necessary element to a 21st century education. So, yes, credit to the teachers - and credit to us all as well.
From the same letter, "we...must support our teachers' attempt to get a fair contract" and "property value...goes down when the school district lacks a teachers contract." Reasonable people can differ as to what constitutes a "fair" contract. Levittown teachers are fairly and reasonably compensated as compared with other districts. The only issue between us at this time is sick leave abuse. If it is the writer's position that our desire for the offending teachers to come to work more often is unfair, then we will have to agree to disagree on this. Property values go down when the school system performs poorly or is perceived to do so - not when a contract is in negotiation.
From another letter, "maybe it is time for the community to begin questioning decisions, policies, rules and the people who make them." Board of education meetings are open meetings. Residents are encouraged to express concerns and ask questions on any issue. Each year during the budget process we ask for volunteers from the community to go through every aspect of the budget process with administration and the board of education. There are many ways for members of the community to become involved and knowledgeable about all aspects of the district.
For almost a year the board has been flexible in its approach to this issue. We have made changes after changes to our proposals in response to teachers' concerns. We have said to the teachers, suggest any meaningful way to address the problem. Their response has essentially been "no." As of this writing their leadership has refused even to sign off on a definition of what constitutes sick leave abuse. They simply don't want to talk about it. They seemingly believe that when enough pressure is put on us it will go away. I hope when you hear additional comments back and forth - from those on both sides of this issue you will filter out the smoke, the misdirection, and the emotional appeal. The issue is sick leave abuse.