Rome teachers rejected raises

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Proposed raises of 2 percent for the 2013-14 school year plus 2.8 percent for 2014-15 and 2.7 percent for 2015-16 were part of a tentative new contract agreement that was rejected by Rome Teachers Association members last month.

In addition to raises, which included incremental “step” increases linked to years of service that are automatically received by most RTA members, another proposed change would have increased the work year by one day to be used for professional development.

The contract proposal also called for a forming a committee to research new scheduling options and potential workday changes for the school district’s secondary schools; those schools include grades 7-12. Among other proposed changes was a requirement for union members to attend one open house event per year, and for elementary teachers to provide one evening of parent/teacher conferences in 2015-16.

RTA members voted Dec. 9 to overwhelmingly reject the tentative contract agreement that had been reached by union and school district negotiators. The RTA represents about 520 teachers and related staffers who have been working under terms of a prior contract that expired June 30, 2013. Contract negotiations are to continue.

The Daily Sentinel filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the Rome school district for a copy of the tentative agreement. The district provided the documents to the Sentinel, and also enclosed a copy of a state fact finder’s report from December 2013. The Board of Education last January accepted that report as a basis for resolving a negotiating impasse, but the union rejected the report later that month. Among details in the December 2013 fact finder’s report, which was released to the public last January, were recommended raises of 2.5 percent for 2013-14 and 2.75 percent each in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

In a letter dated Friday that accompanied the proposed contract documents, district Superintendent Jeffrey P. Simons said “our school attorneys have advised us that the terms of a tentative agreement must be disclosed if disclosure would not impair the negotiations process.” He said attorneys cited Section 87(2)(c) of the Public Officers Law and an opinion of the state’s Committee on Open Government.

In also enclosing the prior fact finders’ report, Simons said although the report was initially rejected by RTA negotiators, “we believe that the issuance of the report, and its subsequent publication (as required by the Taylor Law) were instrumental in helping the parties...to reach the tentative agreement.”

Simons added, “for the same reasons, the current Board of Education and I believe that the release of the tentative agreement will help rather than impair the negotiations process, going forward.”

The tentative agreement would have been effective from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2016, and the 2013-14 and 2014-15 raises would have been retroactive. About 75 percent of RTA members during 2013-14 received automatic “step” raises averaging about 1.7 percent, based on longevity and related factors; even without a new contract agreement, those raises still occur under state law unless revised by mutual agreement.

A first-year Rome district teacher with a master’s degree had a starting salary of $40,202 in 2012-13, while the average compensation for a teacher was $59,000 in 2013, according to the December 2013 fact finder report. This equated to an average daily rate of $320 based on a 184-day work year, the report said, and if the work year was 260 days, the annual rate was calculated at $83,200.

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