August 20, 2014

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Teachers, district going back to table

WELLINGTON — It was mid-September when the teachers union and the administration of the Wellington Schools last sat down and tried to hammer out a contract.

In the interim, things have grown increasingly tense as both sides fired barbs at each other and parents fret that the teachers will act on a 10-day strike notice they issued after the last negotiation session fell apart.

STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE
Linda Repko answers questions from  the crowd of teachers and parents at a forum sponsored by Wellington Education Association and Wellington support staff at McCormick Middle School. 

Today, the two sides are set to resume discussions.

“We’re going back to the table,” said Linda Repko, co-president of the teachers union during an informational community forum Monday night at McCormick Elementary School. “I think it could be a big sign as to what will come.”

More than 100 parents and teachers were on hand for the meeting — hoping to find out more about the negotiation process and just how close the two sides were to reaching a resolution.

Many of those attending said they were struggling with the notion that they were being asked to support the teachers, but they weren’t privy to what was going on. Others pointed out that even the teachers themselves didn’t know the nuts-and-bolts about what was taking place during negotiations.Repko, however, said that is typical for negotiations — the team represents the teachers, and the team provides only a general overview to the membership, not every nuance, as the process moves forward.

“We’re still trying to negotiate in good faith,” Repko said. “We don’t know how far off we are.”

Resident Bob Cherpak spoke up — saying he doesn’t understand why residents wouldn’t trust the teachers who are in the classroom — before their children — every day. The problem, he said, is the administration.

“The teachers aren’t going to change,” Cherpak said. “They’re the same ones that have taught all your kids. Why would you have trouble trusting the teachers now?”

Superintendent Victor Cardenzana attended the meeting and said afterward he was encouraged by Repko’s comments.
“The board has made reasonable offers,” he said. “We want to negotiate and expect a resolution very soon. We are very close.”

School board member Brian Fehlan was also at the meeting and said afterward that a deal could be done as soon as today.

“We want to see an agreement that’s fair to the teachers, the tax-paying residents, and keeps our students at the focus,” Fehlan said.

The contracts for the Wellington Education Association and the Wellington support staff ended June 30. After the last negotiation session ended in mid-September, the teachers responded by a voting later that month to issue the strike notice and, on Sept. 30, issued a vote of no confidence in Cardenzana.

Cardenzana, meanwhile, sent out a letter saying that the teachers make more per hour of work than he does, an argument with which the teachers took issue.

In hopes of sparking a negotiation session, teachers recently began following what they call a work to rule day — adhering to the strict 7:30 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. workday that is spelled out in the contract.

Wellington High School art teacher Sue Kauffman said the decision limits the amount of time teachers can spend helping students, but the move had to be made because they were frustrated.

Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.