Can mayor bring harmony to teacher talks?
The words are the same, but the music the School Committee and Warwick Teachers Union are singing doesn’t harmonize.
Superintendent Philip Thornton is prepared to work on a contract agreement at any time. It could be weekends, for all we know Christmas Day, but the door to negotiations is open 24/7. Darlene Netcoh says an agreement could be reached if the School Committee stopped wasting time and money in court and arbitration and negotiated.
That’s going to happen on Jan. 5 when the parties return to mediation. And it’s here where there’s discord.
After participating in numerous mediation sessions, mediator Vincent Ragosta recommended arbitration because the sides are so set on “pursuing opposing core proposals…that meaningful compromise is not probable give these postures.”
But now Mr. Ragosta will be back at the table, as will the schools and the union.
The difference is that Mayor Scott Avedisian will be there, too. The mayor offered to engage in contract talks soon after mediation came to a standstill. It is not a position he has played in all the years he has been mayor and, if anything, he has either distanced himself from teacher/school relations or been told he’s not welcome there.
This is a change and a challenge.
The “opposing core proposals” of which Mr. Ragosta speaks appear unchanged. The union wants to retain language that weights special needs students when establishing class size, which affects staffing. The schools maintain they are following the law as it applies to these students. There are more issues, including layoff restrictions and salaries, but weighting has become the line in the sand.
The mayor has generally remained neutral, although communication between him and the school administration has improved significantly since Superintendent Thornton arrived. The mayor brings a new dynamic to mediation, one that hopefully pushes sides to an agreement.
But unless the parties are prepared to change tunes, we don’t hold out much hope for music.