Written by Judy Epstein Friday, 02 April 2010 00:00
Port Washington’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Geoffrey Gordon, was jubilant as he announced to a crowded auditorium that the district had succeeded in reaching a five-year agreement with the Port Washington Teachers Association (PWTA). “It’s a real win-win, and an honor to this community, that this board and this teachers’ association can make this groundbreaking agreement. It honors our great teachers and allows us to keep our kids first, while still giving our community the assurance that it does not increase the budget line one penny because of a raise.”
The board members joined Dr. Gordon in hailing the agreement as “groundbreaking” and historic. “I do think it’s groundbreaking,” said Larry Greenstein, “which is appropriate, because Port Washington is a very special place.” Rob Seiden said, “The community will benefit, in the short and in the long run.” Dr. Roy Nelson called it “a great legacy. It’s an agreement that makes everyone proud.” Board President Karen Sloan said, “It was a long, hard road, for both sides, but I am really proud of where it came out. There was compromise and sacrifice on all sides.” The board voted unanimously (6-0) to accept the agreement. Board Vice President Sandra Ehrlich was not present, but sent a written statement “applauding this fair, fiscally responsible agreement. It will serve the district and the whole community well in these difficult times.”
In addition to “modest” raises in years two through five of the five-year contract, other provisions of the contract include:
• Eliminating two sick days for teachers hired prior to 1982;
• A reduction of approximately $350,000 of the amount paid by the district into the teachers’ Benefit Trust, in the year 2010-2011; and
• An indefinite freeze and eventual re-structuring of the teachers’ compensation rates for “miscellaneous activities,” which is understood to mean supervising clubs and other co-curricular activities.
For the first year covered by the five-year agreement, i.e. the current school year, the teachers agreed to a base salary increase of 0 percent, with nothing retroactive. According to Dr. Gordon, “Never in the 76-year history of Port Washington has this been done, and only rarely on Long Island.”
In the second year of the contract, 2010-2011, the negotiated raise will have two components. A 1.75 percent increase will be “on the guide,” or applied across the standard framework of “step” (seniority) and “lane” (additional qualifications) increases. An additional 1.0 percent will be “off-guide,” and will be funded through mutually agreed-upon savings accomplished by the teachers with their Benefit Trust. According to Dr. Gordon and Mary Callahan, assistant superintendent for Business Affairs, the teachers were able to save a significant amount of money by “shopping” this medical insurance, which covers dental, eyeglasses, and the like, and the agreement has the difference being re-distributed to the teachers in their salaries as this l percent increase.
The third, fourth, and fifth year raises will be 2.5 percent, 2.75 percent, and 2.95 percent, respectively. The “off-guide” designation of the 1 percent component in Year 2 means it will not be counted in to the baseline, when these subsequent year increases are calculated.
Most significantly, according to Dr. Gordon and Mary Callahan, all of the teachers’ salary increases, through 2013-2014, are projected to be “entirely self-funded.” This, they say, will be accomplished by “reductions in personnel budget through attrition of staff.” In other words, as the more senior teachers retire, they will be replaced by newer teachers at lower salary levels; and those savings are projected to fund the rest of the teachers’ raises over the duration of the contract. “In this way,” explains Dr. Gordon, “except for what is mandated by the Taylor Law – which requires step increases even when there is no contract – all raises in our new contract are projected to be self-funded through the 2013-2014 year.”
The board members and Dr. Gordon praised all members of both negotiating teams for their persistence, and their grace under pressure. “This has been a long, tough negotiation,” said Larry Greenstein, “and both sides have been as flexible as it was possible for them to be. I really appreciate that the teachers kept cool and calm through some heated moments.”
Rob Seiden thanked the teachers “for their patience, for continuing to show professionalism and excellence through this whole process.” In addition to thanking Christine Vasilev, the PWTA Representative, and her delegation, Seiden thanked his colleagues as well as Dr. Gordon and President Sloan for “an outstanding job. This is my third teacher negotiation, and it was handled outstandingly, in the worst conditions possible. People kept cool and kept their heads, even under fire.”
Dr. Kathy Mooney, Mrs. Callahan, and Dr. Stirling were also singled out for praise. Finally, Dr. Gordon said, “The parents deserve a lot of credit, here, too. They rallied behind us even when I couldn’t tell them the details. We all appreciate the great parents we have here. You work hard – some of you are out of work – and I appreciate your part in getting this done.”
For her part, Christine Vasilev spoke briefly to say, “I can’t thank you enough for the time you put into this. It is a landmark agreement for this county, and you and your team carried on with dignity and class, all through these very difficult times.”
Many of the speakers during public comment protested cuts being considered in the district’s pre-K (pre-Kindergarten) program. Dr. Gordon had explained that, “No one wants to cut it, but with grant money reduced, we are almost $1 million in the hole on this program. That could pay for almost 20 new teachers at elementary, middle, and high school. If I have to choose between putting staff out on the street, or one year of full-day pre-K – I’m keeping the staff.”
Marlene Selig, chair of the Port Washington Child Care Partnership, said, “I am absolutely dismayed that you could cut the pre-K program from full day to half.” Currently, three classes are full day and two others are half day. Dana Friedman urged, “You can’t just look at the costs, but at the cost-benefits. To cut this now will mean increased Special Ed costs later, more juvenile delinquency, and lower graduation rates. The gap does not close. For every one dollar you invest in early childhood, $7 return.”
Most eloquent was Karen Walker, who spoke passionately of having five children go through the pre-K program, “including one who’s getting A’s in Accelerated Math, and one who struggles daily – but who I don’t know would even be that far, without this program. Full-day pre-K works. It’s very difficult to crunch numbers, everyone is hurting – but aren’t we more than just numbers? Aren’t we better than Wall Street? Children are our future; shouldn’t we invest in them?”
In other business, the board reluctantly accepted the resignation at the end of this year of Mrs. Elaine Ajello, principal of Daly Elementary School, so that she may spend more time with her family. Board member Rob Seiden made a commitment to Daly’s HSA co-presidents to look for “the right person to replace her, whether from in or out of the district,” but added, “Don’t assume the right person isn’t already here.”
There was also a decision to continue to operate all four polling places for this year’s budget and school board trustee election, as there is not sufficient time to discuss or inform the community of any change. When the ballots are prepared, whatever is agreed upon for the budget will be Proposition 1. There will also be a Proposition 2, asking the community for permission to sell, “for the highest offer,” two parcels of currently unused property which once formed part of a sand-mine railroad, running under Sands Point Road and connecting with Ashwood Road in Manorhaven.
The board postponed discussion of out-sourcing the ATLAST summer program to its next meeting, on April 6.