The Mamaroneck Teachers Association (MTA) has declined to reopen the teachers’ contract with the school district, reported Superintendent Paul Fried in an interview on January 27. Nevertheless, Dr. Fried is moving ahead in his budget preparation and will be exploring potential budget reductions at school board meetings on February 2 and February 9.
Did the District Ask and Did the Teachers Respond?
At the November 30 special meeting on next year’s budget and “ever since,” Dr. Fried said community members have been asking if the district has requested teachers to renegotiate their contract.
In November, Dr. Fried advised the community that if last year’s budget were simply “rolled over,” the cost of providing the same programs and services would result in a 9% budget increase. More than half of that increase would come from contractual increases in salary and benefits.
Recognizing that a 9% budget increase is too big for the community to bear, Dr. Fried said he is looking for ways to reduce the gap between that budget and one the community is likely to approve. “The gap has to be filled,” he acknowledged. “It’s just a question of how.”
Yes, The District Asked: Dr. Fried confirmed that the district had made a formal request in a letter dated January 4 and presented to the MTA leadership. Before that there had been weeks of informal meetings and discussions. “They knew it was coming,” said Dr. Fried.
The letter asked for reconsideration of salaries and benefits and changes to other contractual provisions that Dr. Fried believes limit the district’s ability to innovate.
According to Dr. Fried, by letter dated January 7, the teachers’ union declined to reopen the contract. The MTA left open the possibility that it would discuss initiatives that did not alter contractual language.
Further discussions, however, revealed that many of the innovations the district would like to explore would require alteration of contractual language. “Everything of substance that could help with budget reduction while preserving programs and class size comes within the contract,” said Dr. Fried.
What Innovations Would the District Like to Pursue?
Dr. Fried believes that current contractual limitations “tie our hands” in terms of using creative solutions to address the budget gap. “We’re being left with no room to do the things that will be the least harmful,” he said.
For example, the contract prevents any schedule changes at a secondary school unless two thirds of the teachers there approve. This precludes reconfiguring the school day – such as shortening or lengthening periods – without faculty approval, even if there is no change to when students arrive or depart.
Dr. Fried said the contract would also preclude the high school from relaxing class size guidelines to implement a “college model” that combined larger group lectures with small group instruction for certain Advanced Placement or other higher level classes. Dr. Fried noted that creative, innovative solutions to immediate problems sometimes result in positive change in the long term.
Make no mistake, though. Dr. Fried does not believe the alternative initiatives he will be proposing to close the budget gap are “educationally defensible.”
They’re “the best of the worst,” he said – the least harmful changes that can reduce the budget to a level he believes taxpayers can bear.
Dr. Fried would like to minimize staffing cuts, as well as the “unfortunate impact” that cuts would have on students, by looking for help from the teachers union. Although there are five bargaining units in the district, teachers account for more than half of the employees and close to 75% of total salaries.
In looking for programs to cut, Dr. Fried cautioned against the community or faculty making comparisons from building to building. The fact that the district values the middle school model or “capstone programs” such as Chinese 5 at the high school may be “hard for elementary teachers to understand,” he noted.
As superintendent, Dr. Fried explained, he is charged with taking the broader view. “It’s like being a parent,” he said. “Being fair doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing. You get what you need.”
Will the Teachers Reconsider?
According to Dr. Fried, MTA president Ann Borsellino indicated that before the teachers could consider reopening the contract, they needed to see the proposed budget so they could be sure the district “has cut what it can cut.”
Neither Ms. Borsellino nor other representatives of the MTA could be reached for comment.
Editor’s Update: See Ms. Borsellino\’s reply issued on February 1.
Budget Cuts To Be Presented: Feb 2 & 9
At the school board study session on February 2, Dr. Fried and his team will be presenting a variety of budget reduction initiatives, including some that would require changes in the teachers contract. (Check the district website for time and location.)
In general, Dr. Fried will present two or more levels of potential reduction for each budget area, together with specific information about impacts on the overall budget and a recommended course of action.
All building principals and directors will be present to assist the central administrators in answering questions.
The February 2 meeting will be a real working session for the school board, which will be seeing the presentation for the first time. “We will be hearing a number of possible scenarios,” Ms. Tse explained, “all bad.”
Although the format of the meeting is not yet set, Ms. Tse expects board members to have lots of questions. The discussion will continue at a second budget reduction initiative workshop the following week, on February 9.
There will be a short introduction, but Dr. Fried encourages community members to review the Budget Communications page and Frequently Asked Questions on the district website before attending the meeting, since there will little time to review background information presented at earlier events. There will be lots of ground to cover and he hopes to lay out all budget scenarios at the first meeting.
The Budget Communications materials may also help community members “think through” the possible initiatives and formulate comments and questions, noted Dr. Fried.