School Committee votes “yes” on GTA approved contract

CAROLINE ENOS, Staff Writer, Editor

Gloucester teachers finally have a “fair and equitable” contract after a two and a half year period of walk- ins, demonstrations, and many attempts at negotiations. Gloucester’s School Committee passed the new contract at Wednesday night’s school committee meeting in a 5-1 vote.

“I would like to say thank you for your patience,” said Gloucester Teachers Association President Andrea Tarantino to School Committee members. “It has taken a lot of teamwork to get to this point.”

The new three year contract gives teachers a two percent pay raise as of September 1st, 2016, as well as a two percent raise in 2017 and 2018, and a .5 percent pay raise on the 92nd day of the 2018-2019 school year.

“Teachers are the backbone in this district, and we dramatically increased the expectations for teachers in the classroom,” said Committee member Tony Gross.

According to Gross, the constant changes in how teachers must align with state standards, the extra work they put into teaching outside of school, and heightened expectations for teachers is why he supports the new contract.

“This is not in the contract,” said Gross. “This is what they do, and this is why they are getting the increases.”

The proposed contract that started the two and a half year standoff between the GTA and School Committee called for a 90 hour increase to elementary teachers school year. Part of this increase was cited to ensure elementary school teachers have more time for Professional Learning Communities in the work day, as PLCs are already incorporated into the high school and middle school teachers’ day.

Superintendent Richard Safier explained that PLCs are “A focus on and commitment to the learning of each student,” and foster a “culture of collaboration and a focus on results” in the school system.

But after a series meetings and union actions, as well as a mediation meeting with the GTA, the push to add hours for elementary teachers was reduced to six for the 2017-2018 year and seven the next year.

Chairman Jonathan Pope recused himself from the vote as his wife is a teacher in the district. While the vote passed with a substantial majority, Committee Member Joel Favazza voted no and encouraged other members to do the same.

“This negotiation was lengthy and for a long time heading towards mediation,” said Favazza. “We never quite got there, and not a single School Committee member was in the room for the mediation meeting.”

However, as Committee member Melissa Teixeira noted, an attorney was present to represent the School Committee once the Committee voted to go to mediation.

In the mediation meeting, it was stressed to the School Committee that “the time the school committee was looking for was unreasonable for the amount of money the teachers were getting.”

“Asking for 90 hours wasn’t needed to begin with,” said Teixeira.

Favazza also compared the contract to those in Rockport and Manchester, and believed that this contract “fails to serve the students and taxpayers who foot the bill.”

Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken stated that Gloucester’s contract cannot be compared to other districts in the area as they have different tax systems, and simply are not Gloucester.

“I don’t want to be compared to other schools, I want to be better than other schools.” said Romeo Theken. “It’s about time we thank [the teachers] for the work they’ve done for us.”

The mayor also commends those who were a part of the negotiations that got the GTA and School Community to this point.

“I applaud the people in the subcommittee because it was very frustrating at times,” said Romeo Theken.

While the GTA and School Committee have finally found common ground over the contract, the Committee agrees that they must continue to work off of this positive progress.

“We’ve figured out how to be very purposeful with our time and how to better service our students,” said Committee member Katherine Clancy. “Collaboration is key and we need to, as a district, have continuous improvement.”