We wish to state upfront that we are pleased that the School Committee has released the minutes of the Executive Session of September 29 at which the committee met with a State Mediator during a negotiation session with the Winthrop Teachers Association regarding their contract talks. We in the past always have favored transparency in the realm of collective bargaining because it has been our view that secrecy works against all parties involved in terms of public opinion. Openness in the collective bargaining process is the best antidote to the unfounded rumors and charges that typically distort public perception of what is going on behind closed doors.
In this case (apparently contrary to the views of some members of the School Committee), the minutes very clearly show that the WTA not only has been reasonable and professional in terms of its position, but also has been the party insistent on moving forward expeditiously to resolve the contract dispute.
By contrast, a fair reading of the minutes reveals that the School Committee has been unreasonable, dilatory, and inflammatory.
However, the main problem we have with the release of these minutes is that it has been done in a vacuum. We are not unfamiliar with the sorts of issues discussed in the minutes, but we’ve read the minutes five times over and it still is not very clear what the unresolvable issues are. The minutes are what they are, but they are written cryptically and unclearly.
Further, the opinion pieces from two of the School Committee members do not shed any light on the specifics contained in the minutes. We do not mean to be disrespectful to the writers of those pieces, but 90 percent of what they have written is irrelevant to the contract issue. It’s essentially just a bunch of blah, blah, blah and patting themselves on the backs for things the committee has done to improve our schools (which we applaud), but which do nothing to tell the public about the areas of disagreement between the parties and how they intend to resolve them.
Moreover, we wish to make it very clear that any effort by any of our elected officials to portray the Winthrop Teachers Association as the bogeyman in this matter is highly disingenuous. Perhaps those who are new to the scene are unaware, or perhaps they (as many taxpayers) are unwilling to admit it, but Winthrop school teachers are among the most poorly paid in the area. Until and unless the members of the School Committee are willing to be honest enough with the taxpayers to admit that fact, as well as to admit that the implementation of new programs in the schools and the saving of others is coming on the backs of the teachers, a serious discussion of the issues pertaining to the contract talks is impossible because a REAL discussion would involve the need for a tax increase. But let’s face it, no one in Town Hall today has the courage to raise that issue.
The bottom line is that our teachers have been without a contract for three years. Their pay scale already is at the bottom for school districts our size. Our teachers have neither been unreasonable in their requests nor lacking in due diligence during the negotiation process. If any of the parties, particularly our School Committee members, wish to inform the public of the progress of the negotiations, then they need to state precisely what the issues are; tell us precisely where they stand on those issues and why; and lay out what the implications are, financial and otherwise, for their positions.
On the other hand, our students, teachers, parents, and community would be better served if the committee members could figure out a way to resolve this pressing issue without wasting time on useless public discussion.