F.U.S.E. News & Updates March 24, 2014 - Contract Negotiations, School Budget, FUSE Elections, More

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The F.U.S.E. newsletter for the week of March 24, 2014

Upcoming Dates to Remember
• The Third Annual Food Drive is scheduled for May 10. VP Billy Coleman is again organizing the event which provides food and other household necessities to New Rochelle food pantries. Information about locations and sign up will be available soon!
• The second annual “Race for Solidarity” is also scheduled for May 10. Last year over 28 FUSE members participated in the 5K race with over 350 other runners from NYSUT locals in the Westchester/Rockland region. Several FUSE members won medals, including Tim Kuklis from NRHS who won the First Place medal for fastest time. Details about the race and how to enter will be available next week.
• And please don’t forget to mark your calendars for the FUSE party, set for May 15 at Beckwith Pointe. This is a great opportunity to relax with friends and see colleagues from around the district. All FUSE members are welcome!

FUSE Scholarship Applications Due April 1.

Completed applications for the FUSE Scholarships are due back to the FUSE office by April 1.
Each year the union awards ten $1,000 scholarships to the children of FUSE members. Scholarships are awarded based on academic excellence, community involvement and extra-curricular activities. Please contact the FUSE office to request an application.
The FUSE Scholarship Committee, chaired by Karole Douglas, will review the applications and all applicants will be notified of the committee’s decision in early May.

FUSE Elections

This is an election year for all of the officers of our union. The positions which will be elected are President, Executive Vice-President, Vice President/Pedagogic, Vice President/School Related Professionals, the Secretary and the Treasurer.

Any members is eligible to stand for election. To become a candidate, a member must submit a petition indicating the position for which she/he is running signed by 25 members of the union. Petitions will be available from the FUSE office on April 1. Signed petitions must be returned to the FUSE office no later than April 25. In the event that any of the positions are contested (that is there is more than one candidate for the position) an election for those positions will be held on May 22.

Candidates elected in May will serve a three year term beginning June 1, 2014 and ending on May 31, 2017.

In keeping with changes enacted to our Constitution a few years ago, the VP/Pedagogic and the VP/School Related Professionals are elected solely by the members of their respective chapters. All other officers are elected by the entire membership.

Please feel free to contact Martin Daly at the FUSE office if you have any questions about the elections or the responsibilities of any of the officers’ positions.

Email Address Request

Most members by now have received an email from Matthew Reid, FUSE secretary, requesting that they send him a “personal” email in order that the union can communicate with its members outside of the school based email system. If you have not yet responded to Matthew, please do so soon!
To be included in this database, please email Matthew at mreid@nrfuse.com and include the following information:

• Your First AND Last name,
• Your job title and building assignment (for example, math teacher at ALMS, elementary teacher at Jefferson, or secretary at NRHS).
• A PERSONAL email address

If you don't have a personal email address, or if you want to use one that is separate from the one you use with family and friends, you can create an address for this purpose.  All Internet providers (Cablevision/Optimum, Time Warner, Fios, Comcast, etc.) will provide multiple addresses for free, as will gmail, AOL, and Yahoo.
 
Please know that this database will only be used by the FUSE office for FUSE communications.  We will not share these addresses with anyone outside of the FUSE office.

In addition, members may choose to communicate with me by writing to mdaly@nrfuse.com rather than at the “nred.org” address. Most other officers of the union also have an “nrfuse.com” address as well. You can also follow me on twitter @marty10707.

School Budget Discussions

The school district’s Budget Review Sessions concluded Tuesday, March 18. That was the third in a series of meetings offering Board members and concerned citizens the opportunity to review the preliminary budget for 2014-2015.
As noted in an earlier newsletter, the budget presented to the Board and community this year is a lot better than the budgets we have seen in the past four or five years. For starters, the budget maintains current staffing levels into next year. For the first year in several years, there is no talk of layoffs or reductions due to attrition. This is indeed good news. The preliminary budget also includes funding for five “undesignated” teaching positions which will allow the district to add new positions should there be any unanticipated enrollment increases or other factors that would necessitate the adding of additional instructional staff.

At the Review Sessions, Board members questioned specific line items and asked for clarification about various aspects of the budget including reductions in grant money received by the district, allocations for overtime pay and other specific items in the budget. Overall, however, Board members expressed support for the spending plan and seem relieved that, for the first time in several years, they did not have to cut positions or programs.

Bill Coleman, FUSE Vice President/School Related Professionals spoke Tuesday to remind the Board of the many positions that have been lost through layoffs or attrition among the school’s support staff. He explained how the many cuts to the clerical, custodial, maintenance, and nursing departments have a negative impact on the district’s educational program. He urged the Board to make the restoration of these positions, so essential for operating efficient, safe and well maintained schools, a top priority in upcoming budgets.

The community members who spoke, for the most part, thanked the Board for their hard work in bringing forward a budget that maintains favorable class sizes, includes the “undesignated” teaching positions so that the district can respond quickly to changes in enrollment and which manages to stay with the state-mandated tax levy cap. Of course there were also some outliers. Vincent Malfatano railed against the Board spending money for bussing for New Rochelle children who attend private or parochial schools outside of the city of New Rochelle. Ignoring both basic fairness and political reality, Malfatano accused the Board of catering to “well off members of the community who live in the North End of the city.” Happily, no other speakers supported this position nor gave his thinly veiled anti-Semitic rants any credibility.

Anna Giordano, a parent and community activist who promotes recycling in the schools, asked for greater accountability and oversight in the awarding of contracts and the supervision of work performed by contractors and FUSE tradesman.

Andrew Newman, a parent, spoke out against the Board’s decision not to include a member of the Board on the school district’s Negotiating Team. He believes that the contracts that the Board has ratified with our union and with the Administrative & Supervisory Association were “giveaways” which favored the employees over the taxpayers. Ignoring the fact that our salaries and benefits and our contributions to our health insurance are all well within the averages for school districts across the region, Mr. Newman insisted that the Board is “giving away the store” to the unions in the district. Of course, that was only one of several factual errors he made in his address to the Board – including saying that “not one New Rochelle resident” serves on the district’s Negotiation Committee. Assistant tot eh Superintendent Joe Williams, Treasurer Carol Amorello and Civil Service Personnel Director Stephanie Oliver, New Rochelle residents all, serve on the district’s team.

Robert Cox, parent and editor of the Talk of the Sound blog, also spoke at each meeting. While he offered support for the budget, he too called for greater oversight in the area of contracted services and closer supervision of overtime and other expenditures. He also questioned the district’s assertion that administrators had incorporated many of the Citizens Advisory Committee’s budget recommendations into the preliminary budget.

The specific financial aspects of the preliminary budget sets the total dollar amount for the district’s spending plan at $244,589,925. This is a “budget to budget” increase of $5,107,985 or 2.13%. This figure complies with the allowable amount permitted under the state’s Tax Levy Spending Cap for our school district and, therefore, would only require support from a simple majority of the voters on May 20 to be approved. If passed, this spending plan would result in an estimated preliminary tax rate increase of 2.16%, which is the lowest increase in at least fifteen years.

More information on the budget, and video of the Budget Review Sessions can be found at the district’s website.

The budget will be presented to the community for its approval on May 20.

Contract Negotiations

The union’s Negotiations Committee and representatives of the school district met last Wednesday to continue negotiating for a successor agreement to our contract which expires on June 30. It was a lengthy meeting that centered almost entirely on a close review of contract settlements that have been reached by other school districts and local unions in the Westchester area.

At our recent Board of Representatives meeting last week, several building representatives asked for some specific information about the union’s proposals regarding salary and raises. While it would be imprudent, to say the least, to discuss specifics of our negotiations strategies, proposals or meetings at this early stage, I can offer some general information and share with members some of the data that is informing our discussions with the school district.

One of the most frequently asked questions throughout the district is “what kind of raise is the union looking for?” Ignoring the fact that sentence ends with a preposition, the answer is that the FUSE is asking for an “across the board” (ATB) raise that is “fair and equitable” for its members in our contract negotiations. Of course, the next question is “what does that mean?”

That is where the careful review of settlements of other locals around the region play a role in the discussion. Settlements in districts around the region generally set the parameters for what kind of agreement our union and the school board will be able to achieve. They are, to an extent, similar to the “comps” a person would use when purchasing a home to be sure that he/she is paying a fair price for the property.

In reviewing the available data, current ATB raises in Westchester school districts for the year 2013 – 2014 range from a low of 0% to a high of 2.2%. Recently settled agreements covering the year 2014-2015 range from 0% to 1.85% ATB raises.

Most recently settled contracts are multi-year agreements which contain at least one year of
no ATB raises or no “salary step advancement.” This includes districts which, like New Rochelle, had already had one or two years of 0% ATB raises in the recent past. Some districts have deferred step advancement from September to either the middle or end of the year. Others have agreed to accept a set dollar amount in lieu of an ATB based on a percentage of salary.

In comparison to other districts, New Rochelle fared very well in the negotiations for our current agreement. This contract allowed members to increase their salaries by 4.7% over three years, albeit with one year of no ATB raise and modest increases to health insurance contributions in years 2 and 3 of the agreement.

Negotiating a salary increase is a priority for our union, as is improving working conditions and avoiding any staffing reductions or layoffs for our members.

Both sides will meet again on Tuesday, April 1 at the FUSE office.

VOTE/COPE Solicitation

VOTE/COPE is the NYSUT’s Political Action Committee. It is funded entirely by member donations – NOT dues money and supports the legislative agenda of the union. It also provides money to local unions for them to use in supporting local Board elections, budget votes and other political action in their region. It is a bipartisan supporting state legislators of both parties who support public employees, public education and organized labor.

Members who are not contributing to VOTE/COPE have received a letter and an enrollment form.

Please consider donating a minimum of five dollars ($5.00) per pay period throughout the school year and join your colleagues in protecting our schools, our jobs and our students.

Letter to the Editor: A Flawed Curriculum

Dr. Gail Guttman, a FUSE member and teacher at the Ward School, recently had a letter published in the New York Times addressing the shortcomings of the Common Core Learning Standards Curriculum. Gail’s letter is short and its message clear – this a seriously flawed curriculum that is rooted in politics and not in genuine concern over improving teaching and learning.

The “education reformers” foisting this untested curriculum on districts across the state seem to care more about undermining public schools and public school teachers than advancing a student centered curriculum that promotes authentic learning and encourages imaginative thinking.

Thanks, Gail, for bringing the authentic voice of teachers front and center to this debate.

To the Editor:

Re “Prepare Teachers for the Common Core” (editorial, March 1):

The panel convened by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to review problems with the adoption of the Common Core standards is another example of why politicians should not interfere in education. The problem with this curriculum is not that it has not incorporated the time to teach teachers how to adapt it for their classrooms; any educated individual could learn about it on the EngageNY website.

The problem is far more fundamental — it is the curriculum itself that is flawed. The Common Core is poorly written and fails to account for the stages of child development. In short, it defines “rigor” by purporting to teach above-grade-level concepts to students. What is the point of teaching fifth-grade math or literature concepts to fourth-grade students?
No doubt few politicians have even read the Common Core curriculum, which spans over a thousand pages per grade level. This curriculum has become a political behemoth, with some administrators espousing its wonders in propaganda videos.

The solution is not to invest money in teacher workshops. The panel must focus on the overhaul of a badly designed curriculum so it truly meets the needs of students on every grade level.

GAIL KAPLAN GUTTMAN
New Rochelle, N.Y., March 1, 2014

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