Four years of Warwick Teacher Union President James Ginolfi is enough, according to Toll Gate science teacher and department head Sam Holtzman.
Holtzman is challenging Ginolfi for the union leadership post in a May 23 election, a job Holtzman held from 2006 to 2008.
In a letter to the membership dated May 3, Holtzman cites a litany of developments since Ginolfi has been president; including the union-initiated 20 percent health insurance co-pay in place of a fixed $11 a week; the elimination of the human science and service department, resulting in lost jobs; the closing of Greene Elementary School; reconsolidation of secondary department heads; and the lack of a contract.
In an interview Friday, Holtzman said he is looking to get the union “sparked up” and heading in the right direction.
He is especially concerned that the union and the School Committee have been unable to reach a contract agreement and that talks are headed for mediation. The department recently requested mediation, a process that is expected to take 30 days. The contract expired last August, however, the union agreed to increase its health insurance co-payment from a fixed $11 a week to 20 percent at a savings of more than $1.5 million to the department. The co-payment is projected to revert to the $11 on Aug. 31 if an agreement hasn’t been reached.
“Twenty percent was awfully high as a starting point,” said Holtzman, “typically you would start lower and gradually increase.”
Is he saying a 20 percent co-payment is too high when private sector co-payments can be much higher?
“In the end of the day, it may be reasonable,” Holtzman said.
Ginolfi was contacted for this story but preferred not to say anything, other than to confirm the election and that only the position of president is being challenged.
While the parties have been silent on issues separating them from a contract, the administration has long maintained that “classroom weighting,” which is unique to Warwick, is exceptionally costly. Depending on a student’s IEP [individual education plan], they may count as many as two students when calculating a classroom size. In a Beacon report done several years ago, school administrators said the provision was responsible for requiring the department to hire an additional 100 teachers at an added cost of $10 million after benefits and assistant teachers are calculated.
Holtzman favors the weighting system, as it provides a “safety net” to students who might otherwise fall behind if classes were too large. Also, he said, weighting serves to reduce stress on teachers as well as fellow students.
As for the cost of the system, he feels it is exaggerated.
“I don’t think it’s as costly as they claim,” he said.
In his letter to teachers, Holtzman further lists the elimination of physical education department heads; changes in teacher evaluations; and “lack of substantive communication from our union president along with his apparent relying on old and failed strategies.”
Unlike campaigns for publicly elected offices, Holtzman said there has never been an opportunity for the union candidates to debate. He said he has waged his campaign through letters and by talking with teachers.
He makes the point that he ran for president in 2006 because the union had gone through three years of failed contract talks.
“Once elected as president, a successor contract was negotiated within two months,” he writes members. He goes on to say it became a framework for improved communication between the union, school administration and School Committee.
If elected this time, Holtzman says he looks forward to reaching a contract and “advocating for programs that will enhance you professionally while providing other benefits for you and your families.”
The election for union president will be conducted at Toll Gate High School from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the 23rd.