Seven years after the most recent contract between the Lawrence School District and the Lawrence Teachers Association expired, it appears there is a thaw in the protracted negotiations.
“We’ve been meeting with great frequency,” Lawrence Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said in June as the school year was winding down. As the Herald reported in November 2017, there had been no contract discussions since February 2015.
The breakthrough was set in motion by a judge’s ruling that the school district and the LTA’s negotiating team meet and then set dates to meet once a month, after the union filed a charge of bad-faith bargaining with the state Public Employment Relations Board last year.
“They complied with the court order,” LTA President Lori Skonberg said of the district. “In addition to those dates, Dr. Pedersen and I met quite frequently, as she stated, to go over issues and language. Dr. Pedersen was the go-between person bringing back our thoughts and requests to the Board of Education.”
Addressing the board at the June 14 meeting, Skonberg took what appeared to be a more conciliatory tone as she spoke for about five minutes. She focused more on teachers’ accomplishments, including winning the 2018 Community Service Award from the New York State United Teachers union, than contract issues, however.
“After seven long years, the board has finally agreed to engage in meaningful talks, and that should be recognized,” she said at the meeting. “Our goal: a fair agreement.” The LTA represents nearly 280 members, including librarians, speech therapists and social workers.
The school board is seeking a 20 percent reduction in salary for new hires, a cap on the district’s health insurance contribution at 80 percent and a reduction in sick-day payouts, though it could approve salary increases for veteran teachers. The previous agreement also has class size caps the district is aiming to lift.
“The major issue that stands in the way is class size,” said Skonberg, adding that she was hopeful that she could present a new contract to the LTA during the next school year. “The board wants full managerial control of class size, including all special areas like art, music and gym. I promised my membership then, as I do now, we will not give up class size. With that said and with language that protects the teacher, some of the numbers can be tweaked.”
Board of Education President Murray Forman said he would not comment on specific issues, but disagreed with the LTA’s position on how the negotiations have played out since 2010.
“First of all, the board has engaged in meaningful talks the last eight years,” Forman said. Second of all, there have been frequent talks during the school year, and we are planning even some over the summer. But let’s be very clear: The board has been negotiating in good faith and has been in active talks all eight years. [The LTA is] in the predicament they’re in due to their own intransigence. There is certainly a deal to be had. They have to wake up and take it.”
Norah Hall, of Inwood, who retired on June 30 after 40 years of teaching special education — 30 of them in Lawrence — has a strong opinion about working for the past seven years without a new contract. “I loved the kids,” she said, “but the other stuff — you’re not respecting the district. It was a stable district. With all the rumors, it feels like it’s disappearing.”
The next school board meeting is scheduled for July 9, at 8 p.m., in the Lawrence Middle School cafeteria, at 195 Broadway in Lawrence.
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