Teachers’ Union champions new contract

This school year, teachers in the Rochester Community School District have been working under an expired contract, leaving many weary about what their futures will hold. Although negotiations are in progress with the Board of Education, the effects are already emerging.

The contracts negotiated by the Board of Education and the teachers of the school district outline many aspects of the teachers’ jobs, controlling anything from their pay and benefits to issues like class size, school calendar, and professional development requirements.

Since April, the Rochester Education Association (REA),  and the Board of Education have been negotiating for a new contract for teachers in the district.

“[N]ot having a contract makes doing the job more challenging because I’m concerned about the financial impact on my family that a lack of a contract creates,” Adams English teacher Julie Reese said.

There are many problems raised by an expired contract. Due to new legislation, teachers cannot receive pay raises for how long they have been working, or for advancing in their education. Additionally, come January, teachers working under the expired contract will be required to pay 100% for any increases in their health care premiums, making it difficult  for teachers to plan for their families.

“This uncertainty and relatively flat wages over the past several years have led to many REA members to seek second jobs to supplement their primary income in order to meet their monthly expenses,” REA President Doug Hill said.

Not being able to negotiate for a new contract in a timely fashion is not new to the district. There have been times in the past when teachers worked under an expired contract for over 14 months. This school year, teachers have been showing up to school wearing their red REA shirts every Thursday, and most recently, teachers have been coming and leaving school at their contractual hours. Teachers who stay before or after school to help their students, without pay, are no longer doing so, causing much discussion among students about the current issue.

“Although this is stressful for many, myself included, they are not doing so to hurt the students,” Adams Senior Alyssa Wright said.

Many teachers are feeling the stress of the unknown.

“Not knowing what my pay and benefits will look like plays a major role in the financial planning for my family and the families of other teachers.  It also has the potential to make teachers question their career choices.  For example, the pay and benefits to new teachers has been significantly reduced over the years.  Teachers are highly educated people that may be tempted to seek other professions where they feel their skills and education can be appreciated and rewarded through pay and benefits,” AHS teacher Jerome Bondy said.

There are a few reasons why a contract has not been negotiated so far. Simply, the Board and the teachers union have not come up with an equitable collective bargaining agreement.  Many teachers believe there is no incentive on the part of the board to get a contract in place.  It may actually be cheaper for the Board to keep the teachers under an expired contract as they will not be obligated to pay wage increases for teachers who advanced in the pay scale due to experience or advanced degree work nor the increase in benefits they may see in the new year

Both sides continue to work toward a settlement, having met 23 times with the most recent session this past Tuesday.

“We have great faith that both of our negotiating teams are working diligently, professionally, and with expedience to reach an agreement, “ Board President Beth Talbert said.

“The Board of Education’s goal is to come to a mutual labor agreement with the REA that aligns expenses with revenues, is mindful of current economic conditions and preserves educational opportunity for all students,” Talbert added.

Meanwhile, teachers continue to garner more and more support from the community during this negotiating process. Students have also been involved in spreading the word on the matter by walking out with teachers and showing up to Board meetings.

It is unknown how much longer negotiations will have to go before a contract is agreed on.