Mediation has failed to help the teachers union and School Committee settle a new contract, so a state-approved negotiator will now review the two sides' positions and make recommendations for a new teachers contract.
The process is called fact finding. Once the report is issued by the negotiator, the two sides will then bargain over the suggested contract.
Nobody is sure what will happen next, but there are many possibilities, ranging from a contract settlement taking place before the report is finished to possible court action.
"For everybody involved — teachers, students, parents, the community — we need for this disruption to be over," said Annie Gilbert, School Committee chairwoman. "Both sides are acting in good faith to resolve the issues that remain, rather than go down the full road, and I'm hopeful that we can do that."
Kerry Costello, Andover Education Association president, said it has been 37 years — going back to contract talks in 1975 — since she has experienced fact finding for a teachers contract.
"The hope to fact finding is that you never get to the end of it" without reaching resolution first, said Costello. "By the time that everybody's information and data has been examined, everybody says we may get some of what we want, you may get some of what you want, but how long are we going to continue with this?"
"There's nothing that could prevent the two sides from coming together anyway to resolve whatever the issues are that are remaining," Gilbert said at a School Committee meeting last week. "We hope to do that as soon as possible."
"It could go on for months, which is why everything is still open to the parties, why everything is going on, so perhaps the parties will see the light," said Costello. "Every time a process ratchets up, that puts a different perspective on each party's positions and where they think they want to get, versus where they may in fact need to get to — a resolution that both parties can live with."
Moments after Gilbert announced that negotiations are moving to fact finding, West Elementary School teacher Frank McCall expressed disappointment that the contract talks have dragged out this far.
"To me, this is embarrassing that we as a community are turning this over to the state bureau of whatever to go to fact finding, so that we can then mediate over what they decide," said McCall. "I go out to the picket line every morning. I read the papers, about teachers losing their way, being vilified. It's very discouraging.
"I don't know how we got to this point," said McCall, "and it's very, very frustrating."
Teachers have been working under their last contract since Aug. 31, 2010, when it expired. In 1975, the last time fact finding was used in contract talks between the AEA and School Committee, a settlement was reached months ahead of when that contract would have expired, according to Costello.
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