The schools are facing massive budget cuts now that a one-year "bridge contract" with the teachers' union has been rejected, according to a statement from the School Committee.

Last week, the committee issued a press release saying members were "disappointed we were unable to reach agreement" with the Andover Education Association, or AEA, the union representing more than 800 teachers.

The current contract is expected to expire Aug. 31, but the School Committee and the AEA had hoped to reach a deal on salaries alone, given the looming, $6.2 million shortfall facing the town.

"A one-year bridge contract would have made salary-only modifications, and was intended to delay addressing larger issues until a more secure economic time," the committee stated late last week. "We offered multiple proposals that collectively would increase the pay of Andover teachers by more than $1 million in the 2020/21 school year. Regrettably, the AEA rejected each of these proposals."

Union President Matthew Bach challenged that version of events, saying it was the union that first approached the School Committee about a one-year deal. When union officials heard the offer from the school administration, they blanched at the proposal.

"Their offer wasn't serious," Bach said, noting it was an increase of .25%.

"That is an insult," he said, remarking that Haverhill got 2%.

Other school districts, including Methuen, have reached one-year deals with 0% increases.

Many schools that had predicted widespread layoffs have gone back to the table with unions for one-year deals. Primarily, city and state officials across the country are waiting to see if Congress and President Donald Trump can come to some kind of a deal to help fill municipal coffers emptied because of diminished tax revenues and high expenses caused by the coronavirus.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has financially impacted every industry and economy in the world," the School Committee said in its statement. "Many people across the state and within our town are unemployed. A priority of the School Committee during this pandemic, and heading into AEA negotiations, has been to maintain school staff and avoid the layoffs other Massachusetts districts have been forced to implement. We intend to uphold this commitment to our teachers."

School Committee Chairwoman Shannon Scully said in an email Monday that the district would do what it could to avoid layoffs. However, given the fact that the budget is about 80 percent salaries and benefits, it's unclear where cuts might come from.

Town Manager Andrew Flanagan said in a text message that while he couldn't speak for the schools, he thought they could avoid layoffs by not filling vacant positions and by "reducing expenditures."

He said the schools have to reduce their spending by $800,000.

On the town side, he said, negotiations are starting soon with the patrolmen's union and dispatchers to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on future contracts.

The School Committee noted that while cuts of $800,000 are necessary, "There will (also) be significant new expenses incurred to reopen school safely in the fall including costs for personal protective equipment (PPE) for our staff and students, additional cleaning requirements, and additional technology to support students and staff."

Bach concurred with part of the statement, noting that "we went to the table realizing there was a lot of work to do to get students and staff back into schools in healthy way. ... We understand a variety of things will be asked of us and the hazardous situation we may be working in." 

He added that the $1 million salary increase mentioned by the School Committee was actually money "they were on the hook for from the previous year."

He said teachers should be rewarded for "working overtime in the last couple of months to change their jobs 180 degrees" to online learning.

"Haverhill is a gateway city and they were able to commit to a level service budget and a 2 percent COLA for their faculty, and they did it using the stabilization fund," Bach said, adding that "Andover has free cash where they could do that."

He said he "wouldn't support a freeze" like Methuen teachers did.

"Andover is very affluent, very wealthy," he said. "They can afford to make sure schools are fully funded."

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