Education: Contract talks for school staff at an impasse

Contract negotiations for custodial staff and school-related professionals (SRPs) are at a stalemate and require state intervention for the first time in recent memory.

School district representatives and those for the Shelter Island Faculty Association (SIFA — which is associated with the New York State United Teachers union, or NYSUT) already met with a Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) mediator in late October, with no resolution. The next mediation session is scheduled for January 12.

Sitting at the negotiation table were SIFA President Dr. Frank Emmett, SRP representative Sherry Stelljes and Jonathan Rubin, a labor negotiations specialist trained by NYSUT, all of whom are negotiating on behalf of SIFA; negotiating on behalf of the school was the school’s attorney, Mary Anne Sadowski of Ingerman Smith. School Business Leader Sam Schneider is also present to help provide Ms. Sedowski with the data she needs during the negotiations.

Interim Superintendent Robert Parry told the Reporter, “Most school boards do not negotiate directly, they employ either a superintendent, or in the case of Shelter Island, the attorney.” Ms. Sedowski then reports back to the school board.

SIFA declared that the talks were at an impasse earlier this fall, according to Dr. Emmett. The SRP and custodial contract expired on June 30, 2010 after negotiations began last spring.

SRPs include teacher’s aides, clerical staff and food service workers. The custodial contracts and SRP contracts are separate, Dr. Emmett noted, but are negotiated at the same time since the language of the contracts is similar.

He said that this is the first time, to his knowledge, that the talks have required a mediator. He’s been  on the district faculty since 1992.

Interim Superintendent Robert Parry told the Reporter, “The negotiations process is always slow and diligent, and at this point both sides look forward to the mediator providing a valuable service.”

Dr. Emmett commented, “I think we fairly understand where each side is coming from. I’m hoping we’re close enough that we can come up with something.” Both Mr. Parry and Dr. Emmett declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations.

Last year’s SRP and custodial contract negotiations were completed on January 26 and approved by the school board on February 9, giving the employees a 5 percent raise.

The school’s contract with SIFA teachers will expire June 30, 2011, but the district doesn’t yet have a specific time line for when those talks will take place.

“We’re starting to do some preliminary work as a board to look at issues and topics we want to address,” School Board President Rebecca Mundy told the Reporter.

When asked whether he could comment on what SIFA is seeking in its teacher contract negotiations, Dr. Emmett responded, “Not prior to going into the negotiations; at this point, no. We understand that times are harder than they were, and we’ll be negotiating accordingly.”