The Gloversville Enlarged School District is asking its employee unions to accept a pay freeze and health insurance change that combined could save $1.6 million.
The school is projecting a $3 million budget gap for the 2011-12 school year, based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to cut district aid by about $988 per student. To close the gap the district is considering cutting 20 to 25 staff positions, including as many as a dozen teachers. The district is also looking at eliminating some sports teams, including all modified sports, and either reverting to half-day kindergarten or eliminating kindergarten altogether.
District Superintendent Robert DeLilli said if the district’s eight bargaining units, of which the Gloversville Teachers Association is by far the largest with 251 members, agreed to both a salary and “step raise” freeze it would save approximately $600,000. If the units all agreed to switch from their Blue Cross Blue Shield Preferred Provider Organization A plan to a PPO B plan it would save an additional $950,000.
“We could significantly reduce the number of layoffs if the unions agree to this proposal,” he said.
GTA President Patricia Donovan refused to answer questions about the proposal.
“It was less than a year ago that the Gloversville teachers and the district signed a legally binding agreement and we did that with the help of a state mediator,” she said. “So, asking for a wage freeze and asking for a change in insurance plans, those are both items that would have to be renegotiated and, as always, it is our policy that the Gloversville teachers do not discuss negotiations with the media or in the public.”
DeLilli said his district’s union contracts prevent him from offering less expensive health insurance plans a la carte, or in addition to the plans the district is required to offer according to its contracts. He said the teachers contract only allows the district to offer the PPO B plan as an option. He said if he approached individual employees about switching plans without going through the union’s leadership it would be a violation of the union contracts.
“This is ridiculous,” he said, “but earlier this year we had some employees who weren’t teachers sign up for the PPO B plan and when their union leadership found out about what they did, somehow, they demanded that they switch back to the more expensive plan, otherwise they were going to file a grievance that we were violating the contract.”
The Gloversville school board has given the bargaining units until April 4 to decide whether to approve the concessions. The board plans to adopt its proposed budget April 11.
Donovan wouldn’t say whether her union will vote on the proposal.
“You don’t vote on every little thing that comes through. You negotiate, that’s why we have elected negotiations teams and once you come to a tentative agreement on both sides, that’s when votes occur,” she said.
Gloversville issued a news release Wednesday explaining the salary freeze proposal. In it the district explained that state law does not permit school districts to freeze wages without approval from the district employees’ unions. DeLilli said members of the public frequently demand the school board freeze salaries to limit tax increases, and this district is trying to raise awareness of the limited options available to the school board.
“I don’t think New York state’s public employee labor laws are really dinner table discussion material,” he said.
Gloversville School Board President Pete Semione issued a statement supporting the salary freeze as part of the news release. “The board is looking for employees to recognize the urgency of the financial shortfalls that the district is facing and, in the spirit of cooperation, accept our plan to greatly reduce loss of staff and programming,” he said.
Semione cast the lone dissenting vote last year when the school board approved the new three-year teachers contract. He said at the time that he couldn’t support giving the teachers raises when the district was laying off staff.
The GTA contract grants 1 percent raise the first year, then 1.5 percent in the second year and 1 percent in the final year. Those raises are added on top of the teachers’ automatic “step raises,” which average about 2 percent per year of a Gloversville teacher’s career. So most teachers at the district are averaging a 3 percent to 4 percent raise annually.