Girard at Large has learned that both the Manchester Education Association and the Association of Manchester Principals have come to agreement on the principles of a contract extension.

Mayor Ted Gatsas and MEA President Ben Dick are scheduled to meet tomorrow to review the finalized draft of the language they agreed to.  Gatsas, who also met separately yesterday with AMP President Rick Norton to finalize the terms of their agreement, will likely meet with him in the next two days for the same review.

A meeting of the MEA executive board is scheduled for later tomorrow afternoon so Dick can present the agreed to language for their approval.  Once approved, a ratification vote by the membership on the proposed terms will be possible.  The MEA executive board has said it will allow the membership to vote on the pact.

Gatsas expected to call a special meeting of the Board of School Committee for this Monday to present the extension and gain a consensus in favor or in opposition.  Should the consensus be favorable, Dick said the union’s ratification vote will proceed.  If the consensus is negative, a union vote on the contract is doubtful. 

Following ratification by the union, a formal vote of the School Board will be held.  Assuming it passes, it will then be presented to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for the final approval.

Gatsas has insisted that changes to the employees health benefits are necessary to avoid massive layoffs in the district and has consistently pointed to the city’s ability to protect and even add to existing positions in the police, fire and highway departments as evidence of the need.  Unions in those departments, as well as others across the city, have made the changes requested of school employees.

Prior to Monday’s “clarification” meeting with Dick and Norton, the terms of the extension were expected to bring school district employee benefits in line with those on the “city side” of the budget, saving an estimated $4.5 million in this budget year.  With those savings, the city estimates it could recall as many as 100 of the district employees who’ve received “reduction in force” or “RIF” notices.

The extension would not only increase co-pays, deductibles, and premium sharing by employees, it will also provide cash incentives for employees to retire and not take the city’s health benefits.  It would also leave scheduled step raises (annual raises guaranteed by the contract for teachers with fewer than 14 years of service) and the negotiated 2.5% cost of living raise (COLA) in place.

In a recent email communication to the membership, Dick indicated that the MEA executive board would allow a vote, even though it did not support the extension’s terms.  When asked whether or not he would endorse the contract as president of the union, Dick replied that he negotiated in good faith with the city on behalf of the membership and would only present language he believed was in the best interests of the membership.

Rick Norton had not returned Girard at Large’s phone call as the time of publication.