Glen Cove teachers rally amid contract talks

‘Their jobs are priceless’


More than 100 Glen Cove School District teachers demonstrated outside a Board of Education meeting on June 6 — one of the last meetings of the school year — to highlight the fact that they have been working for nearly a year without a contract.

Many sported black shirts that read “Contract Now!” while others held signs that read, “Glen Cove Teachers Deserve a Fair Contract.”

Karen Ferguson, who has headed the Glen Cove Teachers Association for 16 years, said the rally was held “because it was the last board meeting before our [final] negotiation session. It was our only time to show how upset our teachers are that we’ve gone almost a full year on an expired contract.”

Teachers are wearing the shirts during school events, too. Talia Sakhee, a high school senior, said that seeing her teachers in the “Contract Now” shirts at the high school’s pep rally — when they otherwise have been wearing the school’s signature red and green — “broke my heart … They practically raise the students, and for that their jobs are priceless.”

The teachers began negotiations with the district last spring, months ahead of the previous contract’s June 2017 expiration. Ferguson said that the anniversary is symbolic for the teachers, and that they hope to use it to pressure the district. She said she also hoped the rally would “encourage the board and the superintendent to come to the June 18 negotiation meeting with the intent to wrap this up.”

During the district’s most recent budget process, Victoria Galante, the assistant superintendent for business, told the Herald Gazette in March that the spending plan reflected a raise for the teachers that she said was “the most we can give them.” She added, “The district cannot afford to give them what they want.”

Ferguson, who declined to specify the terms that the GCTA was seeking, said, “I don’t even tell my own members, because then we’re negotiating in public.” She noted that at the most recent negotiating session, on May 30, district representatives did not make a specific counter-offer. They did, however, ask teachers to spend more instructional time with students on their off periods and after school, Ferguson said. That request, without incentive, she said, was “asking too much.”

“The negotiations process is not an easy one,” Dr. Maria Rianna, the district superintendent, said. “We are not able to disclose details, but we are working toward a resolution and hope to have one soon that is financially responsible and fair.”

Glen Cove teachers have been in this situation before. The replacement for a contract that expired in 2006 was not finalized until 2008. After that agreement expired in 2011, it took over three years for district officials and teachers to finalize a new one, in April 2014.

And Glen Cove is not alone. “I think it’s more prevalent among districts that have significant financial constraints,” Ferguson said. “If the money flows easily, there aren’t as many negotiations.”

In the 2016-17 school year, the district spent about $2,300 more per pupil than the average public school district in New York state, and it spends about $5,000 more than an average of districts nationwide that the National Center for Education Statistics considers most similar to Glen Cove.

Jason Bieder, an English teacher at the high school, said that in the 13 years he has been with the district, “No contract has ever been settled before the previous one has expired, and our salaries haven’t gone up to compensate for the rising costs of health care and the general cost of living. I can only speak for myself,” he added, “but the whole thing is very disheartening.”

Students, too, see teachers’ contracts as a longstanding problem. “For as long as I remember of my time in the Glen Cove School District,” said Talia Sakhee, a high school senior, “teachers were wearing either pins or shirts asking for contracts. It’s hard to avoid the problem.”

Teachers unions, unlike other labor organizations, are limited in how they can pressure their employers in negotiations. The Public Employees Fair Employment Act, also known as the Taylor Law, passed in New York state in 1967, mandates heavy sanctions for teacher who strike. Under the law, striking teachers face fines of as much as two days’ pay for every day they spend on a picket line.