Against the backdrop of the Rushmore Elementary School being honored as a national school of excellence, tensions continue to escalate in the Carle Place School District's ongoing negotiations with its teachers' union.
Even as representatives from the federal, state, and local governments turned out Tuesday afternoon to honor Rushmore's faculty and students for exemplary achievement - only 263 schools out of 85,000 were so honored this year, a number of teachers in the background could be seen wearing "No Contract" buttons on their lapels.
The last negotiated teachers contract in Carle Place expired this past June 30, and while the teachers continue to work under the stipulations of the old agreement - a provision of the Taylor Law - things have reportedly gotten pretty frosty at the bargaining table.
The reason? A four-year contract offer from the board of education that contains no pay increases in its first two years, a 1/2 percent increase in the third, and a 1 percent increase in its final year.
"I can't comment on those figures, but I can tell you that even before negotiations were entered into the school board's stance was essentially confrontational," said Kevin Kilgallin, president of the Carle Place Teacher's Association. "In fact, on at least two occasions, board members publicly said things along the lines of, 'If people don't like working here they can leave' and 'We don't care what's happening in other school districts.'
"You know, the September before last, long before the old contract expired, I sat down with Dr. Mary Ellen Freeley, [superintendent for the Carle Place School District], and we had a very positive conversation. We both said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could sit down and settle this thing in a friendly manner, without the lawyers getting involved.'
"That discussion was relayed to the board, and for a time, I thought maybe, it wouldn't come down to hard feelings. Then in February, I finally got the board's answer. They said they weren't interested in taking that kind of approach, and now, here we are."
So angry have some teachers become that a flier has even circulated in the community calling for the school board to be impeached.
Said one party privy to the teachers' position, "Right now, we're real far apart."
"We're working real hard to come up with a fair contract, and while I can't discuss specifics, I think the board has made a fair offer," said Dr. Freeley.
"There has been no breakdown in the negotiations," she added.
Kevin Kilgallin agreed that negotiations have not broken down, but added, "there doesn't seem much enthusiasm by the board to settle this thing either."
As happened the last time their contract was up, the Carle Place Teacher's Association has sent a letter to the school board, informing its members that the teachers will not participate in the upcoming Superdance, the upcoming fund raiser which the district annually holds to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The district is now seeking community volunteers to fill in for the teachers, and will hold a meeting on December 3 at 8 p.m. in the north cafeteria of the high school to pull together the various Superdance committees. Dr. Freeley said the district particularly needs volunteers for the entertainment committee, the group responsible for coordinating student activities at the all-night event.
"It saddens me personally that the teachers won't be participating in the Superdance, as this is an activity that really brings the community together and is one for which we've long been recognized," Dr. Freeley said.
"We made an agreement not to divulge confidential information," Kilgallin said. "I will say though that I think it's very possible that we can arrive at a settlement that will be fair to the teachers, fair to our resident taxpayers, fair to everyone."