NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Neither school board members, school members or union leadership can recall a more contentious relationship between management and labor than exists today in the City School District of New Rochelle. For the second year in a row, efforts to reach a long-term contract have failed.
The union representing teachers, other pedagogic staff and school-related professionals in New Rochelle, has formally declared “impasse” in contract negotiations with the City School District of New Rochelle. An independent mediator will be brought in to broker a deal.
New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees, or FUSE, is the local New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) chapter.
Last year, after acrimonious negotiations, the two sides negotiated a one year settlement.
Due to coronavirus, the union and the school district agreed to limit contract discussion to negotiating a one year settlement.
“It appears that the School Board’s legal representatives had no intention of reaching a settlement,” said outgoing FUSE President Martin Daly. “Since Ingerman Smith has been retained as the district counsel the relationship between the BOE and FUSE has seriously suffered.”
Daly blamed the contentiousness on the fee structure of the Ingerman Smith contract which was based on an unprecedented and bizarre Request for Proposal drafted and negotiated by then School Board President Jeffrey Hastie rather than the District’s professional staff, as is typical in well-run, high-functioning school districts.
“The district has chosen a law firm that financially benefits from strife in billable hours,” said Daly. “Ingerman and Smith has no incentive to settle.”
The district’s legal fees have increased over 47% since last year, according to a FUSE analysis.
FUSE requested and examined the retainer of this law firm and found almost everything is billable and outside the fee structure, including, but not limited to, all disciplinary matters.
“The structure of the retainer incentivizes a path of strife and discord with staff,” said Daly.
A previous agreement to allow the principal to schedule teachers for study hall or hall duty was continued for the 2019-2020 school year but will “sunset” on June 30, 2020 unless the parties agree to continue it past that date.
The union says it offered to include teacher coverages at the middle school and expand them to the high school, and add an additional office hour in lieu of a study hall.
Daly said the District’s attorney insisted on the same “lesson plans on demand” clause rejected by FUSE last year.
In 2019, the same issue led to a breakdown in talks. In the face of the union’s consistent refusal to add any language to the contract requiring that lesson plans be made available “upon request” to principals/supervisors, the District entirely withdrew its proposal, leading to a one-year agreement to be reached last year.
This year, the union once again refused to accept this demand but this time the District did not withdraw the demand, leading to impasse.
According to FUSE, the overwhelming majority of school districts in the region do not have language mandating “lesson plans on demand” in their collective bargaining agreements. Further, they say, building administrators and content area supervisors neither wanted nor requested such language.
FUSE says the District demanded a “hard freeze” — no across the board raise and no step increments — for six months, and then only step payment.
FUSE alleges the District is enriching the law firm of Ingerman & Smith at the expense of labor peace.
“The firm is achieving its goal of more billable hours through the destruction of collegiality, cooperation, and respect,” said Daly.
As a result of impasse, when school resumes in September, union members will be working under the conditions of what will then be an expired contract. Members will receive salary step increases, longevity increments and lane change increases. There will be no across the board raise. All of the existing terms and conditions of the current agreement will remain unchanged.