This letter was submitted to the editor by Lori Skonberg, head of the Lawrence Teacher's Association.
Though I’m not really sure where to begin, I should start by thanking the Board of Education for approving of a retirement incentive that will lead to the retirement of 17 teachers. While we will miss these dear colleagues, we understand that the incentive was a win-win for the district, which will save millions of dollars, and the LTA, which will not face teacher layoffs. We can only hope that the spirit of cooperation that enabled us to negotiate the terms of this incentive will also materialize during the ongoing contract negotiations between the LTA and the district.
To date, it would be an understatement to say that we have been disappointed with the progress of these negotiations. In order to reach a settlement, we must have a partner committed to the negotiations process. However, the Board’s actions have shown more apathy than commitment. Since our contract expired last June, we have met only three times. Since the school year began in September, we have met only once.
We have repeatedly submitted lists of possible meeting dates in an effort to negotiate. More times than not, the Board did not even dignify us with a response. It would be one thing if their refusal to negotiate only affected the LTA. However, their refusal to negotiate, if it continues, will have drastic negative consequences on the children of this district as well.
New York State currently requires every school district to have a newly approved Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR, in place by January 2013. Otherwise, districts will lose significant amounts of state aid for every month that a new APPR is not in place. According to Superintendent Gary Schall’s budget presentation, this amount currently stands at $6.9 million. If the Board’s refusal to negotiate continues, and the district loses state aid as a result, would they raise taxes to make up for the budget shortfall? Or would they make Draconian cuts to the public schools instead? Both of these options are not only unacceptable, they are avoidable.
The solution is clear. Negotiate. We have nine months to reach a new contract, and a new APPR, before the state deadline takes effect. For committed partners, there is still plenty of time left. We were able to negotiate an agreement on the retirement incentive because it was mutually beneficial. We hope that the Board understands that negotiating a new teacher’s contract is mutually beneficial as well, especially with the unsettling prospect of being punished by New York State if the contract is not settled by January.
As the elected stewards of the Lawrence Public Schools, the Board owes it to the community, and to the children, to make sure that this cut in state aid never occurs. Therefore, members of the Lawrence Board of Education, please join us at the negotiating table, in good faith, and let us hammer out an agreement together. We know it can be done. To say it would be a shame for the district to lose millions of dollars in state aid would be the greatest understatement of all, and it simply cannot be allowed to happen.