Meadville Tribune

July 17, 2012

In Crawford Central School District, ‘politics of division’ won’t help create a workable teacher contract

By Doug Mehok

MEADVILLE — The school board of the Crawford Central School District sent a letter to every employee of the district. In it, the board addressed the topic of the failed “early bird” negotiations with our teachers’ union by writing that “unfortunately the joint effort of staff, administration and the board that produced this agreement came to an end when the CCEA (teachers union) negotiating team rejected the final wording for the ratified contract.”

As one may imagine, it was a shock to read that it was the “joint effort of the staff, administration and the board that produced this agreement” when our negotiations team, of which I am a member, spent more than 40 hours total at 18 negotiations sessions with the board to create the tentative agreement that we not only brought to, but recommended to, our fellow teachers. Our teachers promptly accepted this agreement which contained, in the words of board member Jan VanTuil, “more language concessions ... than I’ve ever seen in the past 20 years” and a “huge” pay freeze replacing the 3.3 percent raise already guaranteed to the teachers under the existing contract.

As one would assume, our negotiations team would submit that it was the school board members who “rejected the final wording for the ratified contract.” Conjecture and blame over how we arrived at this juncture, however, will only produce more conjecture and blame over how we arrived at this juncture.

What doesn’t add up in this transparent attempt to divide the teachers from the colleagues they chose to represent them is this: Would a supposedly hard-line negotiations team out of touch with its members be likely to bring those members a package representing the loss of a guaranteed 3.3 percent salary increase, a pay freeze, and more language concessions than the board has seen in 20 years?

What is certain is that the agreement our members ratified would save the district $5.2 million over the four-year term. What is in dispute is health insurance language which the district’s insurance broker says would be $12,500 per year more than the version of the tentative agreement the board ratified. The board claims those costs could rise, but even if they rise 10 times that amount, the savings to the taxpayers would still be $4.7 million.

Naturally, after agreeing to terms that would have saved the district millions and then being rejected, many of our teachers were incredulous. One member was heard to remark that, apparently, there’s no such saying about punching a gift horse in the mouth.

Finally, in the letter they sent, the board members stated that among the consequences of the failed early bird is that “a totally new contract will have to be negotiated” that “might take several years to accomplish due to the current climate.”

I would submit that it is within the power of our two negotiations teams to create a climate that will produce a resolution, but that we cannot do so by engaging in the politics of division. Our team is committed to finding a new compromise and we hope the board’s team will join us in that effort.

Mehok is president of Crawford Central Education Association.