Applause erupted in the Sandwich High School library Wednesday evening when school committee Chairman Andrea M. Killion announced that the committee and the teachers’ union had finally been able to hammer out a new contract.
With that declaration, Ms. Killion brought to an end 2 1/2 years of negotiations between the school committee and the Sandwich Educators Association (SEA), the union representing Sandwich teachers.
Ms. Killion, who served as a member of the board’s negotiating subcommittee, said that she is pleased that an agreement has finally been reached. She also voiced her hope that “going forward, there is better communication between the SEA and the school committee.”
Marie A. Kangas, who served with Ms. Killion on the negotiating subcommittee, said during a phone interview that the new contract “should be pleasing to both sides.”
“We worked very hard for a long time, and I think it will work well for both parties,” Ms. Kangas said.
Details of the contract have not been made public yet, but Ms. Killion did say that the new agreement is good through the end of next June.
Ms. Killion said she signed the contract on June 9, which was graduation day for Sandwich High School.
Ms. Kangas said that she wishes the committee could have done more with regard to teachers’ salaries. She did not disclose any of the specifics in the contract about salary, but admitted that she wished the final number could have been closer to what the average teacher on the Cape makes. She stated that the committee was restricted in what they could offer by the town budget.
The last contract the teachers had worked under expired in September 2010, which means the teachers have been working without a contract since then.
Ms. Killion mentioned that when she became a member of the committee in 2009, a mediator had already been brought in to facilitate the negotiations.
Earlier this year, the union’s president, Laura J. Carlyle, recalled that a verbal agreement between the union and the school committee that included a zero percent pay increase, was in place in December 2010, but the school committee reneged. At the time, Ms. Carlyle also said that the committee did not tell her why they chose not to move forward with that agreement.
Hoping to move the negotiations forward, the union drafted a letter to its members last October, directing them not to volunteer in any school activities “for which you have not signed a contract.”
Some of those activities included chaperoning field trips, taking part in mentoring groups, helping with the school council, or assisting with science fairs, book fairs and fundraisers. Teachers were also directed not to write letters of recommendation for students applying to college. The letter stipulated that the action was “designed to support our negotiations team and activate the school committee to take care of business and to be respectful of the SEA.”
The refusal to write letters of recommendation hit a sour note with some parents.
In February, teachers began to picket on a daily basis in front of the schools, holding up signs demanding that the school committee reach an agreement with their union.
Teachers also came with their signs to the school committee’s bi-weekly meetings, and spoke out during public forum. At high school graduation this month, teachers attended commencement exercises, but did not walk in with the students, something they have traditionally done.
Ms. Killion declined to comment on what the major sticking points were that held up finalization of the contract. She suggested that some obstacles could have been part of the committee’s negotiating strategy, and they could come up again in future negotiations.
Ms. Kangas mentioned that along with disagreement on finances, both sides argued over language that the union wanted in the contract.
“SEA wanted new sections put in, but the committee’s perspective was—is it something that needs to be in a contract?” she said. Ms. Kangas said she could not reveal the specifics of those sections because they had been discussed in executive session and approval for those minutes had not been voted on yet by the committee. In addition, the minutes would then have to be declassified for public viewing.
Neither Ms. Kangas nor Ms. Killion said they could pinpoint what led the union to agree to the contract.
“I can’t speak for SEA. I don’t know what the tripping point was,” Ms. Killion admitted.
Ms. Kangas said that the proposals in the contract were essentially the same ones they had already put out there. “So I have no clue what finalized this for them,” Ms. Kangas said.
Ms. Carlyle did not return phone messages or e-mails from the Enterprise yesterday seeking comment.
Ms. Kangas praised Superintendent of Schools C. Richard Canfield and his leadership during the negotiating sessions. She said that the superintendent’s presence made discussions easier.
“He talked to SEA, not at them, so we were able to work more in-depth,” she said.
Dr. Canfield said that he is “obviously very pleased that we’re finally able to reach an agreement,” although he would have liked to have reached an accord with the teachers sooner.
He said that he hopes with the contract settled, focus can be placed on “our mission for high quality teaching and learning.” He noted that with talks on yet another contract slated to begin in six months, he also hopes to rebuild relationships that were damaged by these most recent negotiations.
“I am hopeful that the next negotiation will not be as contentious and protracted as this last one,” he said.
“It’s not good for anyone.”