Two tentative contract agreements have been forged between the Andover teachers union and the School Committee, and the teachers' Work to Rule action has ended, following a grueling 13-hour mediation session last week.
The contract isn't guaranteed yet, however. The fate of the contracts with the Andover Education Associaiton hinge on the findings of a High School Scheduling Committee made up of six teachers and six school administrators. Talks could fall back into fact finding if members of the committee don't agree on a single format, according to officials.
It is unknown whether there is any cost of living adjustment, or other boosts in compensation in the agreement. This year's school budget does allow for an increase in pay and assumes a high school schedule change, School Committee member Dennis Forgue said at a recent meeting.
The two sides will not release details about the agreement until March 26, three days after High School Scheduling Committee presents its findings.
"They have a deadline of March 23. It's a consensus decision," said AEA President Kerry Costello, adding that the committee's administrators have one vote, and the teachers have one other. "If there is no consensus and... the parties fail to reach agreement, we will be in fact finding."
In fact finding, the state appoints a negotiator to recommend a new contract that the two sides can further debate.
Talks go overnight for new deal
Last Thursday, March 8, four of the five School Committee members were joined by several school administrators as all 13 members of the AEA bargaining team met nearby. For most of the talks, the two sides were separate, speaking only through a fact finder who was mediating the negotiations.
"There was a strong desire on everybody's part to resolve everything else other than the actual choice of high school schedule," said Annie Gilbert, School Committee chairwoman.
The meeting started at 5:30 p.m. It continued until 6:30 a.m. the following day, Friday, according to Gilbert.
"I don't know that any of us had pulled an all-nighter since our college days," said Gilbert. "We all learned that we're not as young as we used to be."
Costello said she has endured a number of all-nighters with bargaining before. There was a sense the AEA was a bit more prepared for a marathon meeting, with teachers bringing food to last the session while, late Thursday, school administrators ordered take-out.
Shortly after an agreement was signed, Gilbert and Costello co-wrote an email to the school community announcing the tentative agreement.
Details not yet revealed, as schedule still to be decided
Two contracts were agreed to: a contract that retroactively covers Sept. 1, 2010 — the first day teachers went without a new contract — to Aug. 31, 2011, and a second contract covering Sept. 1, 2011 to Aug. 31, 2014.
Two agreements were necessary because state law prohibits contract agreements that exceed three years, according to Gilbert.
Working conditions for high school teachers are not yet outlined in the contract, pending the result of the scheduling committee, according to Costello. From this point forward, that is the only part of the contract that could change.
"Depending on a schedule, that determines how many minutes you teach, or how many classes, your planning time, your duty time," said Costello.
Assuming the scheduling committee agrees on a schedule format, the contract will be ratified by the teachers union on April 2, said Costello.
Andover teachers have been working under the rules of their expired contract for 81 weeks.
Work-to-rule ends townwide
Sitting in her car Tuesday as Andover High dismissed its students, parent Leslie Tiller said Work-to-Rule has been tough on her entire household, which includes an Andover High student and an Andover teacher.
"It was a challenge for my son, who needs after-school assistance," said Tiller. "It was a challenge for my husband, who had restrictions on what he was able to do. And as a parent, having both sides was a challenge."
Since Work to Rule started Jan. 3, discussions all over Andover have centered on how Work to Rule was affecting students when extra help, college recommendations and more were in short supply. Though he is happy that teachers have a fresh contract in the works, 15-year-old Sagar Kaul, a sophomore at the high school, said Work-to-Rule was harmful to students.
"That hurt a lot, especially for some people who were trying to get out of school and into private school," said Sagar. "Students suffered. Teachers should have come up with something else."
Over the last several months, many residents were frustrated with the School Committee, while others took their anger out on Andover's teachers. Either way, few were happy about the work action.
"All of us, from my son to my husband to myself, are all happy [it's over]," said Tiller.
Franck Salameh, whose daughter attends Andover High School, is also pleased with the recent outcome, though he remains frustrated that Work-to-Rule was used by teachers in the first place.
"They made a spectacle of teachers, and a spectacle of the school system, and a spectacle of the profession," said Salameh. "I'm upset about this whole thing, [but] I'm glad that they found a solution."
High school junior Grant Hespeler, 17, is also pleased that Work-to-Rule has ended, and that the contract dispute is nearly over.
"That is awesome, what else can I say?" said Hespeler. "Teachers will be happy, which will translate to students being happy. Everybody wins."
In the end, it has been "a long, arduous journey" to the new contract, according to Costello. She said work will continue, to bring the two sides closer together, so next time, in 2014, contract talks don't continue for this long again.
"We certainly haven't crossed the entire chasm of all things that go into such a long negotiation process," said Costello. "Even if the contract's ratified, in my mind, that's a beginning. We still have work to do."
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