Why such a close vote? OPRF contract disrespects longtime teachers

Opinion

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WEDNESDAY JOURNAL asks why the faculty ratified the contract proposal by a narrow margin of five votes ("OPRF teachers narrowly OK deal," Dec. 1). Board President Carlotta Lucchesi, puzzled that the faculty didn't overwhelmingly support the proposal, speculates that teachers "look at those benefits [medical insurance] as entitlements unfortunately." Had the Journal dug a little deeper, it might have uncovered a different, more truthful story. Faculty recognize changes in market conditions and are willing to pick up their fair share of rising costs for premiums. Suggesting that the benefits package is the problem insults the faculty.

The debate surrounding the contract centered on fairness in retirement provisions and equity in the salary schedule. Provisions for early retirement under the new contract will seriously disadvantage roughly 40 teachers. Caught between the old and new plans, they face a sudden dilemma. They can either retire as planned, but with salary, pension and penalty losses often amounting to tens of thousands of dollars after the first ten years of retirement; or they can postpone their plan for retirement and continue teaching several more years. It should be noted that one current board member defended the old retirement plan during the last referendum campaign as the district's way of rewarding teachers whose career earnings do not measure up to those in comparable districts prior to retirement. The new contract reflects a troubling shift in the board's appreciation of teachers who have dedicated their entire careers to this district.

Perhaps no issue has been as contentious or painful as the inequity of the new salary schedule. Rather than assuming the financial responsibility of recruiting and retaining young faculty, the board has unfairly transferred the burden to experienced teachers. The new contract upsets the balance and fairness of the salary schedule in two ways. First, over the past 20 years, the schedule distributed increases so that the highest salary for a teacher (apart from Ph.D.'s) would be calculated by multiplying the salary of a first year teacher by a factor of 2.4. The new contract tosses out the multiplier to save money at the expense of the most experienced and educated teachers. Their maximum salary is now more than $2,500 less than it would be if the multiplier were still applied.

Second, the board's touted 5.75 percent average salary raise masks the fact that teachers at early stages of their career are receiving, in some cases, more than double the raise granted teachers in middle and later stages over the life of the contract. A balanced and equitable schedule offered an incentive for teachers to spend long careers at OPRF and compensated them for the length of time it takes to reach the top of the schedule. The current schedule risks changing our school from a destination where teachers want to end their careers to a training center for new teachers.

In light of these inequities and others?#34;notably the controversial slashing of deans' stipends by 75 percent?#34;the better question for WEDNESDAY JOURNAL is why the majority of faculty voted for the contract proposal. The faculty tends to support its negotiations teams. After 18 difficult months, the team believed it had given its best effort and that a more equitable board offer was not forthcoming. It's also true that many teachers do benefit from the contract offer and understandably vote according to self-interest. Yet it is worth noting that a good number of the younger teachers voted against the proposal. Perhaps the mistreatment of older colleagues brought home the long-term effects of the contract. Finally, some teachers voted "yes" reluctantly, unhappy with the salary schedule but apprehensive about an impasse that might lead to a strike.

Seeing the contract as one "that meets right in the middle," board member and negotiator John Rigas is pleased with the happy outcome for both parties. We draw different conclusions from the closest, most hotly contested vote on a contract proposal in OPRF's history. First, the stewards of the high school are willing to pursue financial expediency at the expense of fairness. Second, they do not value or respect the contributions, professional growth, and experience of seasoned faculty who have dedicated their professional lives to OPRF. And, third, they have sent the message to young teachers that the lure of higher salary today may be followed by shabby treatment tomorrow. We also have learned the hard lesson that the faculty must organize effectively and speak with one voice to champion its collective interests in the future.

 

Teachers: Francisco Arriaga, Ricky Baker,
Michelle Bayer, Linda Belpedio, Toni Biasiello, Colleen Biggins, Ellen Boyer, Linda Burns,
Ann Carlson, Christina Daggett, Mary Ann DeBruin, Ted Domanchuck, Sue Donoghue, Michael Dorame, Pamela Erickson, Elizabeth Farley, Lisa Faulkner,
C. Stan Faust, Suze Ferrier, Daniel Ganschow,
Joanna Garvey, Robert Gauger, Clyde Lundgren,
Vincent Martinek, Sandra Campbell,
Stephen Schwartz, Maureen Grady, Louis Giovannetti, Patricia Graham, Deborah Heer, Bernie Heidkamp, Naomi Hildner, James Paul Hunter, Scotty Jones, John Kasik, Barbara Kenning, Laura Kiedaisch, Kristin Knake, Joseph Kostal, Lauren Lee,
Linda Levine, William Lovaas, Heidi Lynch,
Matthew Maloney, Bonnie Marks, Rena Mazumdar, Amy McGrail, Cynthia McGuckin, Catherine McNary, Jim Goodfellow, Richardhard Mertz, Toni Milak,
Scyla Murray, Allison Myers, Elizabeth Caliendo-Nash, Paul Noble, Michael O'Lonergan, Julie Patterson, Elaine Katie O'Keefe, Luis Perez, Rosemary Pesoli, Aaron Podolner, Lawrence Prystalski, Craig Slocum, Jose Sosa, David Splan, Patricia Staszak,
Kristen Stow, Roseanne Tenuta, Richard Thomphsen, Kathy Tsilimgras, James Vokac, Peter Kahn,
Elaine Glenn, James Vokac, Marvin Walker,
Patti Warren, Gini Williams, Mary Wiltjer,
Mark Woods, Jessica Young, Richard Zabransky

Dean Counselors: Brandi Ambrose, Deborah
Bluminberg, Julie Fuentes, Fred Galluzzo, Kristina Johnson, Stephen Lucas, Catherine Marshall,
Carolyn Ojikutu, Willa Schaffer, Sarah Wurster

13 untenured teachers and one tenured teacher who wish to remain anonymous also endorsed this letter

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