MANCHESTER — Both sides in the ongoing talks with city teachers on a new contract say progress is being made, while stressing the framework of a new agreement has yet to be reached.
Negotiators for the Manchester Board of School Committee and the Manchester Education Association (MEA) issued a joint news release on Wednesday announcing progress was being made toward a new contract.
On November 3, negotiations resumed with the board’s Special Committee on Negotiations presenting a proposal addressing salaries, health benefits and sick time to the MEA. After additional discussion, both sides agreed to establish a joint subcommittee to further review the board’s proposals at a meeting on December 4. That committee, composed of MEA President Sue Hannan, MEA negotiator Michelle Couture, Negotiations Committee Chairman Richard Girard and Ward 8 school board member Jimmy Lehoux met with school district Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis for “over two hours” on Dec. 12, according to a release, to gain a better understanding of the board’s proposals.
In a statement issued by Girard and Hannan, both sides indicated progress was being made in the negotiations, saying they had agreed to “stay within certain financial parameters, work to address specific questions the association had about the board’s proposals and review additional information proposed by the association.”
Following the Dec. 12 meeting, the two sides said the dialogue was “cooperative and productive,” with several issues being raised and addressed.
“The School Board’s proposal for compensation was an intricate plan that contained many facets,” said Hannan in a statement. “The MEA appreciates the collaborative session to answer questions and consider particulars of possible needs or consequences. While we have offered counterproposal, we are confident that there is a solution somewhere in the middle.”
“We appreciate the association’s efforts to better understand how our proposals were formed and how they work,” said Girard in a statement. “As we’ve said, it is a comprehensive and intricate proposal designed to address the many issues raised by both sides. Our work session seemed to clear the air on a number of items.”
Girard and Hannan said with another half a dozen meetings scheduled to fine tune the salary, health benefit and sick time issues, their goal is to conclude negotiations before Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas presents his budget recommendations to the Board of School Committee in the coming weeks.
The most recent agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the Manchester Education Association (MEA) expired on June 30. After union leadership declared an impasse on June 4 — citing an inability to find “common ground” — negotiations between the district and the MEA resumed July 26. Four negotiation sessions between the two sides were scheduled in late July and August.
Planned negotiation sessions in August were then canceled, with Girard sending emails to union officials accusing the MEA of not bargaining in good faith on a new contract.
Girard said at the time the union refused to come back to the table until his committee was ready to talk salaries. MEA leadership sent a letter to school board members in October, announcing a desire to return to the table.