By Dustin Luca
---- — All Andover High School teachers have been teaching three classes this first semester and will teach another three next semester, following a contract agreement reached back in July after a long and at times bitter negotiation.
For the first half of 2012, perhaps no story so consistently captured the attention of Andover residents -- long known for their interest in town education -- as the difficult contract negotiations between the teachers union and the town.
However, since the beginning of the school year, said Paula Colby-Clements, School Committee chairwoman, “People have been going about their business and trying to put that long and arduous process behind them.”
The change to teaching three courses each semester, instead of just two courses and having a duty one of those semesters was a sticking point in negotiations. That change “has been very hard” for high school teachers, said Kerry Costello, teachers union president. “Not only is it a 20-percent increase in teaching time, it’s 28 to 29 more students in the additional class.”
With a deal in place, there is no need for the two sides to meet for contract bargaining — at least until the 2014-15 school year, the final year of the current contract, according to Colby-Clements.
However, bargaining is expected between the AEA and school officials in 2013 over a new teacher evaluation model required by the state. That will need to be implemented by September, according to Costello.
The sides also are gearing up for bargaining to create a new high school schedule format as a schedule committee looks at options to be implemented for the 2014-15 school year, Costello said.
The high school has a new leader in Christopher Lord, hired effective July 1 after two years of interim leadership from retired principal Tom Sharkey. The high school’s reaccreditation visit occurred earlier this month.
Andover Education Association teachers began 2012 under work-to-rule work action, meaning they would stick to providing only those services spelled out in their expired contract, as they moved through a second school year without a new contract.
While most areas of the new contract were wrapped up quickly, the schedule format for the high school proved a sticking point. At the time, high school teachers taught three courses in one semester and two courses and one duty -- such as watching a lunch room -- in the other. The School Committee wanted to move to a three-and-three format, which would increase teacher workload and allow the district to eliminate positions and save money. The idea was highly opposed by the leaders of the Andover teachers union.
A memo sent to other high school teachers in January by Jen Meagher, then a union vice president, advised them to “build in down time” around class lessons and inform students that lessons may be changing under work to rule. It also asked teachers to be quick to leave the school at the end of the contractual work day. Action team members and building representatives would “walk through the building and prod people out the door,” according to the memo, which was mailed to the Townsman anonymously.
In June, in an email sent to several Andover teachers and leaked to the Townsman, Meagher talked about holding reports needed for high school reaccreditation as “the only leverage we have left at the bargaining table.” District administrators start investigating the memo. The reports later were approved by teachers.
Meagher is no longer employed by the Andover Public Schools, according to Superintendent Marinel McGrath.
Days ahead of union ratification of a new three-year contract, a state report on the contract talks provided an internal view on the contract talks.
A state arbitrator said she was “dumbfounded” by Andover High School teachers’ fight to continue working a duty period instead of teaching a period. She also found the School Committee’s recommendation for a high school schedule “better serves the financial interests of the school system and the educational interests of students” than teachers’ proposals, according to her report.