Teachers union, board will meet

NASHUA – Nearly two weeks after the last teachers union contract expired, the President of the Nashua Teachers Union issued a statement urging for collaboration between the union and Board of Education for a successful end to negotiations.

"We are at a crossroads," said Adam Marcoux, president of the Nashua Teachers Union, in a Sept. 8 press statement. "We can choose to go in the direction of collaboration and cooperation, and working together on a fair agreement that reflects the challenges and demands of our profession. Or, we can go the other way. The NTU believes it’s better for parents and students – and our entire community – to work together than to have a bitter, divisive fight. We invite the board to join with us and move forward."

In a Friday phone interview, Marcoux said his statement was the result of a long negotiation process, but said, "We’re hopeful for a
successful mediation September 13."

The board and union have been in negotiation talks since early spring, and the most recent teachers contract expired Aug. 31. He said teachers are frustrated at the fourth expired contract in the last five contract cycles, and the lack of progress so far on a new deal. Marcoux said by releasing a statement on the mediation, he hopes to inspire a resolution, "I’m hoping for a joint collaboration between the Nashua Teachers Union, the community and the Board of Education to benefit our students," he said.

Board of Education President Sandra Ziehm echoed Marcoux’s call for an agreement, "I would like to have this resolved, obviously, and his (press release) says a lot," Ziehm said in a Friday afternoon phone interview, "I want to do what’s in the best interest for our students."

In his statement, Marcoux said the district filled nearly 100 teaching positions since June, and many teachers who left Nashua did so because their salaries and benefits lagged behind compensation offered in neighboring communities.

"Competitive salaries are essential if Nashua is going to attract the best teachers to serve students – and, once hired, keep teaching here. A revolving door benefits no one. The NTU is looking to the Board to negotiate a fair agreement that enables the district to move forward, and is not a penny more – nor a penny less – than taxpayers can afford," Marcoux said, adding, "Salaries across the board must reflect the knowledge, skills and dedication that Nashua’s teachers bring to their classrooms every day, and which enable us to continue to deliver a first-rate public education to all students."

The NTU’s membership voted recently to resign from district committees Sept. 14 if no deal is struck, but would continue to write letters of recommendations for students; serve as club advisors; and continue volunteering their time for students. "There is considerable frustration among the membership with the way this Board is currently handling negotiations, but that frustration won’t impact our work on behalf of students," Marcoux said.

The next Board of Education meeting is Monday, Sept. 12. "I will most likely address the board in a similar tone…that I’m hopeful for a successful round of mediation," Marcoux said in the Friday phone interview. The next mediation session will take place the following day. "We’re going to meet Tuesday the 13 to exchange offers again and hopefully we’ll be able to come to a meeting of the minds," Ziehm said.

After the union and district officials reached an impasse this summer, they hired third party mediators to work through areas of disagreement. The process is not unusual – the last teacher contract required the assistance of mediators as well.

Details of the disagreements cannot yet be aired in public, but if the disagreement persists past mediation, the negotiations enter a "fact-finding" stage, and then the proposed settlements will eventually be made public.

Speaking in June, former Nashua Teachers’ Union President Bob Sherman explained the process, "If the mediator decides they can’t bring the parties together, state law has us go to fact-finding; bringing in someone completely new, and with no knowledge of the negotiations, and each side presents their stance on the remaining issues," he said. The fact-finder then has 30 days to consider their findings and present their case to the BOE and NTU. "Each side then has 10 days in private to consider and vote on the proposed settlement – and then it is public," Sherman said.

The current teachers’ contract does not have an "evergreen clause," that would roll the contract over while a new one is being negotiated, but Sherman said, based on precedent, staff can continue working under the same conditions. "Everything remains frozen but continues – so nobody moves any steps on the pay scale," he said, "All the terms and conditions remain in place."

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402, tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_TinaF.