After almost a year, the Warwick School Department and the Teachers Union appear no closer to a contract and it is doubtful an agreement will be in place when school opens Aug. 29.
Unless some understanding is reached, union president James Ginolfi has said, the contract extension reached last year expires Aug. 31, along with a 20-percent health care co-pay, which would mean an additional $2 million in costs this year.
Talks have been in limbo since this spring. Within the last month, the sides have agreed on mediation and selected mediator Vincent Ragosta, although a first meeting has yet to be scheduled.
“This is 11 months later and we haven’t met with the union, and it’s an abomination,” School Committee member Eugene Nadeau said Friday. Nadeau sees the sword cutting both ways.
When the current contract extension expires, Nadeau reasons, not only does the 20 percent co-pay cease but so do other provisions, including limits on layoffs, class size and – what Nadeau particularly wants to see eliminated – seniority.
“To me a contract ends when it ends,” he said.
Nadeau says the health care co-pay, which Ginolfi said would revert to $11 a week if an agreement isn’t reached by the end of August, shouldn’t be reduced but increased.
“What I want is 25 percent,” he said.
He said he looked at a study of 13 major companies that found, on average, employees paying 37 percent. He said that, considering wages and benefits, the department is paying $100,000 a year per teacher.
“Prolonging the contract is not good for the school department and I want it to end,” he said.
Nadeau said he prepared a list of contract revisions he wanted to see addressed some time ago, but so far nothing has happened. Nadeau didn’t share the list, but he said seniority has got to get out of the contract.
“Seniority rules in the system,” he said.
He said it dictates promotions and fails to recognize those most qualified for the job.
“It keeps those that perhaps are not doing the job in the job for a lifetime,” he said.
He acknowledged that, under the state Department of Education, schools are in the process of implementing a new system of teacher evaluation. Warwick is one of two communities that implemented the system last year with the purpose of trouble shooting it before being introduced statewide.
Thus far, the system has been criticized for being burdened by paperwork and consuming time that would be better spent in classrooms and on administration. The union that played a role in evaluating the new system said the department of education is doing what it wants regardless of union input. Ginolfi made that charge when the state released a summary of the program a couple of days before the Warwick panel submitted its report.
As for the chosen mediator, Laura Hart, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Training, said Ragosta has served as a mediator for the past decade and mediated talks in North Smithfield, East Greenwich, Johnston and Bristol/Warren. She said the department pays $5,000 of the cost of mediation.
As for the process, Hart said, mediation goes on “until such time that a contract is worked out, or there is a stalemate and they go to arbitration.”
Each party would select one arbitrator and the American Arbitration Association would name the third.
While expiration of the current agreement is less than 40 days away, Ginolfi doesn’t see reaching an agreement as impossible.
“It always comes down to meeting together,” he said.
So far this summer, that hasn’t been happening.