Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 3, 2014

Recent teacher contract talks a vast improvement

The Andover Townsman

---- — Editor, Townsman:

As a past School Committee member and former member of the bargaining subcommittee, I would like to provide an additional perspective regarding recent and previous teacher contract negotiations.

During the last contract negotiation with the Andover Education Association, the School Committee embarked on a two-year, extremely contentious negotiation process that included numerous negotiation sessions, a lengthy mediation process, a second mediation process prior to fact-finding, fact-finding, and following the issuing of the fact-finding report, a final negotiation process. During these tumultuous two years, we experienced “work to rule,” when the teachers performed their responsibilities strictly to the limits of the contract and set up picket lines in front of all the schools.

Teachers refused to write letters of recommendation for college applications, disrupted meetings and picketed the place of employment of one School Committee member.

Through the process the School Committee earned the right to implement a teacher’s contract unilaterally, which would have been the first time in Massachusetts history. As a result of this effort, the School Committee gained back critical management rights that had been previously negotiated away. Teacher productivity at Andover High School was increased by changing the schedule from a 3-and-2 to a 3-and-3 block schedule, increasing the teaching load from five to six courses per academic year.

Additionally, critical changes in the teachers’ professional development program were negotiated resulting in a more rigorous professional development system and an increase in the time it takes teachers to move through the track system, thus reducing the rate of salary increases. Finally, there was a 5-percent COLA increase over the course of three years, a lower rate of increase than had been negotiated over the previous 25 years.

During the following 18 months prior to the beginning of the most recent contract negotiations, an agreement that reflected a change in statute and guidelines regarding teacher evaluations was negotiated and implemented. The new evaluation process improves the accountability of the teacher evaluation and enhances the school district’s ability to adequately address the situation of an under-performing teacher.

In addition to the above, there has been a vastly improving atmosphere of cooperation between the AEA and school administration. Not a single grievance has been filed by the AEA during this period. Disagreements as they occur are being worked out without unnecessary legal expenses and use of valuable management time. An improved working environment does contribute to an improved learning environment.

During the most recent round of negotiations, the School Committee successfully negotiated a return of important management rights in regards to the middle school schedule that allows the school administration to make future changes in the schedule that can improve the educational experience and student achievement. In addition, the School Committee negotiated a 5.5-percent cost of living increase over the course of three years, well within the recommendation of the town manager and the contracts currently being negotiated in other communities.

The ability to reach an agreement in a limited time simply reflects the improvement in the relationship between the School Committee and the AEA and the positive problem-solving approach taken by both negotiating subcommittees. An in-depth study of the financial impact of the agreement was fully taken into consideration.

I realize that there are different opinions about the outcome of this contract. However, it is important that you know that all School Committee members participated in the process, while the School Committee consulted with the town manager, Finance Committee and Board of Selectman. The school’s leadership team was closely involved in the process and the School Committee made use of the legal and negotiation services provided by the same team that assisted us in the previous negotiation. As one former member of the Andover School Committee, I do believe that the entire community is well served by this agreement. A contentious, combative and tumultuous union relationship is not in the best interest of student achievement.

Dennis Forgue

18 Reservation Road