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Cornish Voters Approve School Budget

  • At the close of yesterday’s Cornish school meeting, Ruth Rollins thanks SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin for his presentation. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    At the close of yesterday’s Cornish school meeting, Ruth Rollins thanks SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin for his presentation. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Wearing a tie given to him by his predecessor Allen Damren, SAU 6 Business Manager Tim Ball studies the school report during yesterday’s meeting at Cornish Elementary School. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Wearing a tie given to him by his predecessor Allen Damren, SAU 6 Business Manager Tim Ball studies the school report during yesterday’s meeting at Cornish Elementary School. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • David Aguiar, center, and his wife, Melanie, left, talk with School Board member Troy Simino. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    David Aguiar, center, and his wife, Melanie, left, talk with School Board member Troy Simino. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • At the close of yesterday’s Cornish school meeting, Ruth Rollins thanks SAU 6 Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin for his presentation. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Wearing a tie given to him by his predecessor Allen Damren, SAU 6 Business Manager Tim Ball studies the school report during yesterday’s meeting at Cornish Elementary School. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • David Aguiar, center, and his wife, Melanie, left, talk with School Board member Troy Simino. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

— Residents were treated to an unusually detailed breakdown of the failed negotiations between the Cornish teachers union and the school district during an otherwise tranquil school meeting yesterday.

During the three-hour meeting, residents passed the $3.7 million budget, up about 3 percent, by a 114-47 vote. Voters also directed the School Board to form a committee to study ways in which the town can collaborate with the Plainfield school system.

But the meeting was dominated by a subject that — to the consternation of some in the crowd — was not on the warning: A new teachers contract.

Several months of negotiations failed to produce an agreement to present to voters, an unusual development in Cornish. Though news of the impasse spread in recent weeks, both sides took the opportunity to stake out their positions in front of voters. The result for Cornish residents was a look at the back and forth that usually remains behind closed doors.

Early in the meeting, Christine Bourne, a Cornish Elementary School teacher and lead negotiator for the teachers union, rose to tell the crowd that teachers were frustrated with the board and believed that the board’s negotiators did not prepare adequately for bargaining sessions and failed to take the negotiations seriously.

“It felt to us that they didn’t really come to negotiate, and as a result deprived you the voters to have your voice heard in the process,” Bourne said.

Bourne’s complaint, which has been circulating in town for weeks, prompted a quick response from Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin who rose and gave a 30 minute PowerPoint presentation that described each side’s demands, showed where the deal failed and explained the School Board’s rationale for failing to sign a deal.

Negotiations, he said, fell apart on two issues: pay increases and the process for laying off teachers if the student population continue to decline. (There are no current plans for layoffs.)

Teachers wanted a 4 percent pay increase, plus “step” increases, in which their pay increases for every year they have worked, and an increase from three to five personal days, McGoodwin said. They also opposed any rewrite of contact language stipulating that, if layoffs are necessary, teachers with the least amount time served are the first to go.

Over a three-year contract, the average teacher pay would have increased 27 percent under the union’s proposal, McGoodwin said. McGoodwin gave examples of how a few specific teachers (he did not provide names) would benefit. A second-year teacher with a master’s degree would go from making $37,826 to $48,391 in three years under the union’s proposal, he said.

“The School Board was troubled by the increases,” McGoodwin said. “We need to keep the budget within reason.”

And he asserted that the union was insisting on a policy governing teacher layoffs that could harm education. The teachers wanted to continue with current policy that makes the last teachers hired as the first to go. The School Board, however, wanted to make decisions position based on several criteria, including performance and education level, and use seniority as a tiebreaker.

“I will fall on the sword and tell you that the most important thing that impacts children’s learning is the skill of the teacher, and not all teachers have the same skill,” he said. “It is OK to talk about the elephant in the room because, at the end of the day, it is the children (who are) impacted.”

Despite their differences, McGoodwin said, the parties came close to finishing a deal in recent months.

The Cornish School Board’s final offer included the change in layoff procedures, and 2 percent pay increase with no steps. Teachers did not want to budge on the layoff language, and wanted a step bump, but no general increase, McGoodwin said. (Step increases generally are larger in a given year than general pay increases. Information provided yesterday showed that every step increase results in a $1,000 to $2,000 annual bump for most teachers.)

Only a few people in the crowd spoke, and their reaction was mixed.

Everett Cass said he supported the board’s desire to retain the best teachers, not the most experienced teachers.

“The change needs to be made,” Cass said. “The ones reduced should be the least able to teach, and the ones kept should be the most able to teach.”

But Nicole Saginor, a former school superintendent and education consultant, said McGoodwin was being unnecessarily hostile to teachers.

“I am very disturbed,” Saginor said. “I don’t think I have ever been at a meeting were the tone has been as adversarial. The tone is disturbing to me.”

In an interview afterward, Bourne said McGoodwin’s presentation was slanted, though she did not dispute any of his figures or assertions. She also said that the teachers’ demands were a typical opening gambit in negotiations. The union did not anticipate securing such large increases in a final deal, she said.

“He was trying to present his side,” Bourne said. “They didn’t come prepared and it put us into a corner. There wasn’t time to negotiate. We were not anticipating getting the percentage increase. It’s always a process. You go back and forth.”

McGoodwin said he hoped negotiations would resume in the spring. But Bourne said she was not sure if that would occur.

In ballot voting, Merilynn Bourne and Glenn Thornton were seeking a three-year term on the School Board. Results were not available last night.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.