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Extend Contract One Year

The Port Washington school board approved an agreement with the Port Washington Teacher’s Association to extend their contract for one more year, in return for providing several concessions.

Superintendent Kathleen Mooney said the agreement will save the 2013-2014 budget an estimated $1.3 million, creating a better situation for budget planning.

The contract was set to expire after the 2013-2014 school year, meaning that the contract will now continue through the 2014-2015 school year. Mooney noted that the PWTA’s concessions would also contribute to the 2014-2015 budget.

“The amount is very significant,” Mooney said, at the Feb. 26 school board meeting, adding that the teachers came forward to the administration and the Board of Education regarding concessions, because they care about the education of students and they saw how difficult it has been to close the gap for next year’s budget. “It took a great deal of reflection, thought, planning, and courage on the leadership part’s to come forward with this agreement to the Board of Education. We worked very hard to negotiate what we believe is a very fair deal, and the membership was wonderful in agreeing and coming forward and working with us to make this happen tonight,” she said.

School Board President Karen Sloan added her appreciation, saying, “The teachers have been the face of a lot of criticism and I hope in the coming days they will be the face of a lot of gratitude.”

School board member Vernon McDermott said that it was a very generous gesture on the part of the PWTA and that it enables the school board and district to have more flexibility in getting through the next two years.

Sloan added, “It’s two years to catch our breath and figure out a lot of the changes that are coming in education in the next two years. It’s not the solution to all of our problems, but it’s a very big step in the right direction.”

After the board voted all in favor to approve the agreement, many people came forward during community comments to add their appreciation and initial thoughts.

PTA and HSA leaders thanked the PWTA, the school board and the administration for working together and creating a positive solution.

Robin McDermott, Manorhaven Elementary PTA president, and Becky Schamis, co-president, said they hoped the school district would not have to suffer the severe program cuts originally anticipated. “We hope that the Board of Education will consider bringing back full-time librarians – our elementary school children have suffered greatly the past two years. Many of the students do not have access to books other than the ones they carefully choose at school, with the help of the school librarians. Elementary years are the time to instill the love of reading,” they said.

Julie Schissel and Dawn Andrew, co-presidents of the Sousa Elementary HSA, thanked the PWTA for “working with the district to help ensure that our students don’t lose more programs during these tight economic times.” They also thanked Dr. Mooney for “creating an environment where negotiations like this can happen, and for the efficiency and transparency you have brought to the superintendent position.”

Melissa Kirgis and Lynn Steinberg, co-presidents of AGATE, said that they were optimistic that next year’s budget will maintain and possibly reinstate programs that are essential to education.

Hank Ratner also congratulated the board and Dr. Mooney, and thanked the PWTA. “Perhaps this is the start of new paradigm, perhaps finally, all those people who have the fate of the students, the teachers, the taxpayers in their hands are now understanding the financial difficulties we are all facing and the financial difficulties the school is facing.” He added, “I hope – and I don’t mean this in a negative way – I hope this is not kicking the can down the road, as our elected officials continue to do in Washington.”

Bert Tobin said that he was very encouraged by the concessions, but also echoed Ratner’s concerns about “kicking the can down the road.” Tobin said that the board should look forward to how the district will be delivering education ten years from now.

PWTA President Christine Vasilev said that teachers, through their union, approached the board and the superintendent to begin this conversation. “It is vitally important to protect the essential programs and services our students need. We want to preserve the strength and depth of our great staff. And, we want to work with the Port Washington School District to navigate the treacherous waters of declining state aid and an undemocratic property tax cap,” she said.

Vasilev added two points that she hoped would be considered going forward. “First, school budgets cannot be balanced on the backs of hard-working teachers and staff. All the stakeholders – from the district’s leadership, to our elected officials in Albany, to taxpayers here in Port Washington – must understand that strong schools are an investment in the future of our children, and the future of the region’s economy.” She continued, “Secondly, we must use this moment of good feeling and good will to build on our collaborative relationship. I call on you, the Board of Education, and the rest of this great community to work with the Port Washington Teachers Association to press our legislators to ensure we receive our fair share of state aid.”

The next school board meeting takes place at Weber Middle School, on March 19, at 8 p.m.