Kingston school district, teachers’ union at impasse

KINGSTON — The Kingston school district and Kingston Teachers Federation have reached an impasse in negotiations on a new contract and are waiting for an appointment to proceed with non-binding mediation.

The contract between the district and its teachers’ union, whose membership includes the district’s approximately 700 teachers, expired in June 2009.

According to passages from “School Law,” a book jointly published by the state School Boards Association and state Bar Association, when a collective bargaining agreement expires before a new one is negotiated, the terms of the previous agreement “continue in full force and effect until the parties agree” to a new contract.

The book reads that an impasse, or deadlock in collective bargaining during which “there is no reasonable expectation that further negotiations would be fruitful without third-party assistance,” can be declared at any time under the Taylor Law, which governs labor relations between municipalities and most public employees in New York.

School board President David Fletcher declined to be specific about the source of the disagreement between the Kingston Teachers Federation and district but said generally that “it usually comes down to basic issues of salaries and benefits.”

Kingston Teachers Federation President Laurie Naccarato could not be reached for comment.

Under the Kingston Teacher Federation’s 24-step salary scale based on seniority for 2008-09 — the last year of the agreement — the salary range for members with bachelor’s degrees is $48,670 to $86,099; the salary scale for members with master’s degrees is $53,077 to $90,495.

As for their health insurance, the contract calls for the district to contribute to a health insurance trust fund run by a board of trustees that is appointed by the Kingston Teachers Federation. School district Treasurer Gary Tomczyk said the district contributes quarterly to the fund. The contribution for January through March was $4.4 million, and the fund covers 100 percent of health insurance costs for members who participate.

Going forward, Superintendent Gerard Gretzinger said both sides are awaiting an appointment to be set with Jeffrey Selchick, a mediator with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

Fletcher and Gretzinger said the mediation would not be binding, and if the mediator could not help the two sides come to an agreement, the next step would be to bring in a fact-finder.

The fact-finder would gather all of the positions and pertinent facts and create a report, said Fletcher, and according to the School Law book, the “report of recommendations must be released to the public five days after the report is given to the school superintendent and employee organization.”

Either party can accept or reject any or all of the recommendations, according to School Law. If the impasse continues, additional mediation called “conciliation” or sometimes “superconciliation” is the next step.

Gretzinger, however, said he has never been involved in the conciliation step in settling any contracts. “We hope to have a fruitful negotiations with the mediator and not have to go beyond that point,” he said.

Anthony Zumbolo, executive director of the state Public Employment Relations Board, said there is no formal process for conciliation. Both sides have an obligation to continue negotiating until they come to an agreement, he said, and his agency provides additional mediation services as needed.

In cases in which disagreement still persists, Zumbolo said both sides can agree to ways to resolve the impasse like independent arbitration. But there is no mandate to do so, he said, and the arbitration process would be “of their own creation.”

Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, said the state collective bargaining process is set up to “be fair to both sides” and described the overall bargaining climate as “a period of relative labor peace.”

Across the state, 61 NYSUT chapters came to agreements with school districts between September and December, said Korn, who added that despite difficult economic times, school districts and unions are still finding creative ways to hammer out agreements.

In February of 2009, the Kingston Board of Education approved an extension of its agreement with the Kingston Federation of Substitute Teachers.

More recently, the school board in November approved an agreement with the Administrative and Supervisory Personnel Association, which represents 27 principals, vice principals, coordinators, and directors, and in January approved an agreement with the district’s chapter of the Civil Service Employees Association, which includes 101 full-time maintenance workers, 65 part-time food service workers and six full-time food service workers.

Each contract runs through June of 2011.

A contract between the district and the Educational Support Personnel, which represents about 350 employees including teaching assistants and secretaries and whose members are also covered by the same health insurance trust fund that covers the Kingston Teachers Federation, has also expired. That agreement expired at the end of June 2009.

Fletcher said district officials are still scheduling negotiations with its support personnel union.

Source: www.dailyfreeman.com

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