Teachers reject proposed concessions

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NAUGATUCK — Mayor Bob Mezzo says teachers may have accepted a cost-savings plan worth about $570,000 if the school board had given them some incentive.

“There is a give and take, and you don’t get anything without giving something,” he said.

While teachers agree the negotiations weren’t handled well, union leaders say they are willing to head back to the bargaining table to avoid teacher layoffs and help the district, which projects a $1.07 million budget shortfall this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The Naugatuck Teachers’ League, which represents the district’s roughly 400 teachers, rejected the board’s proposal Friday for two deferred payment days, one unpaid furlough day and givebacks of common planning time. Teachers said they voted no because they were not given incentives, including a guarantee of no layoffs.

Mezzo, who is on the school board, said he was brought in at the last minute to negotiate with teachers. Rather than allowing him to negotiate, he said administrators and school board leaders wanted him to “become a messenger to give their positions based more on ideology than reality.”

He said the situation should have been handled differently than normal union/board negotiations because it was not about a contract extension: The board was asking for help a year after it unanimously approved the current teachers’ contract, which runs through 2011.

Still, he said the board viewed cost-savings discussions as formal contract negotiations and took a hard line, which limited the board’s ability to negotiate.

“There seemed to be some non-economic or at least potential cost savings, which wouldn’t have had a large economic impact, that we weren’t allowed to offer by the board leadership and the administration,” he said.

One of the incentives teachers wanted was a “sick bank” that could be used by teachers with catastrophic illnesses. Currently, teachers can accumulate up to 170 unused sick days but cannot give those days to other teachers who need them. In some instances, teachers have gone to work while still receiving treatment for cancer or other severe illnesses, union leaders say.

Teachers say a “sick bank” is more fiscally responsible than the current policy through which teachers have to ask administrators for extended sick time compensation.

“It is not a huge expenditure at all, and it is quite a value to some of our members,” said Charley Marenghi, union vice president and spokesman.

The union also wanted an early retirement plan and for the board to switch back to a fully funded insurance policy rather than the current self-funded plan, Marenghi said, adding that teachers are going to craft their own proposal for the board.

He said the union didn’t like the board’s proposal, but it doesn’t mean teachers don’t want to help. He said no one in the union is willing to walk away as long as people are going to be reasonable.

“It was made abundantly clear to us [by teachers] that the board’s offer was not considered reasonable,” he said. “We want to come back to the table, and we realize time is money.”

David Heller, chair of the school board’s communications committee, said the board is likely to at least consider any plan that would avoid layoffs.

“I can’t really speak for the board because we haven’t really met or talked about it yet,” he said. “But I think everyone is willing to work hard to avoid laying off teachers, which would have a drastic effect on our schools and students.”