Dear Community Members,
Welcome back to a new school year! We look forward to rekindling staff and student relationships and starting the year on a positive note.
The Board of Education has written this letter to address an important school district community issue. We appreciate your careful reading of these facts and hope that this message corrects some rather unfortunate rhetoric that has been disseminated throughout the community concerning the status of the collective bargaining agreement between the teachers and the District.
Roughly 14 months ago, the contract between the Locust Valley Central School District and the school district’s teachers expired. There is nothing unusual about this status. The existing property tax burden, revenue restrictions under the property tax cap and general fiscal prudence make negotiations with collective bargaining units very challenging for all school districts. As a Board of Education that represents the interests of all taxpayers, we take this job quite seriously. About 73% of the approved budget of nearly $80 million for 2015-16 is related to employee salaries and benefits. The seriousness of the impact of contract negotiations on the District’s financial health cannot be overstated.
The teachers are represented by the LVSEA (Locust Valley School Employees Association), which is the local unit of NYSUT (New York State United Teachers). In a letter to the school community earlier this month, the LVSEA asserted that the Board of Education “violated the law” because it has not paid the teachers their ‘step’ increase on the salary schedule for
2014-15. The Board refutes this conclusion. No entity has cited the District for any violation of law.
We believe that the language calling for salary increases (agreed to by the LVSEA in the last contract) requires that all prospective increases, including ‘steps,’ must be negotiated, not automatically granted. This is hardly the novel concept that the LVSEA would have our community believe, as the Public Employment Relations Board has previously upheld another Long Island district’s right to withhold automatic step increases on facts similar to those present here in Locust Valley.
It was strongly implied in the LVSEA letter, however, that the District’s leadership has been unethical in its treatment of this issue, has wasted budget monies on legal costs, and has not negotiated fairly. These claims are blatantly untrue. Specifically:
We have always acted in good faith and upon the advice of professional legal counsel. At all times, our representatives have been willing to negotiate a successor agreement to the expired contract. But it is the LVSEA that has chosen to simultaneously pursue litigation against the District regarding the automatic step issue in two separate forums (forcing the District to spend additional money on a legal defense) rather than negotiating away our differences and making a new agreement. It is the LVSEA that has rejected the suggestion of an Administrative Law Judge at the Public Employment Relations Board to combine its two proceedings against the District into one, which would cut the District’s legal costs in half, while still protecting their right to have a neutral third party review the District’s actions and determine whether teachers must be provided automatic step increases as they assert.
In fact, LVSEA representatives have gone so far as to refuse to make a new counterproposal in response to the District’s last settlement proposal, have declined to meet over the summer months to negotiate, and have advised District representatives that unless certain demands of theirs are satisfied, they intend to let the pending litigation resolve the differences between the parties. In an even more surreal turn, LVSEA leaders at one point over the past year actually rejected their own contract offer to the District after District negotiators consulted the Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools and expressed a willingness to agree to it as being fair and financially responsible.
We don’t begrudge the union’s right to advocate for its members. But the implications and outright falsehoods promulgated by the LVSEA to garner community support for its efforts are wholly disingenuous. Their not-so-veiled threats to create disruption and reputational impact are self-fulfilling prophecies of the LVSEA leadership, not the Board of Education.
We continue to want to negotiate a successor agreement that will resolve differences and support a financially sustainable school district, which would include paying ‘step’ increases. Given the LVSEA’s actions, however, we ask you to ask yourselves, does the LVSEA share this goal?
In sum, our focus is to have meaningful dialogue with LVSEA representatives in order to move the parties to agreement. This has proven to be challenging, as all LVSEA energies seem focused on creating inflammatory signs, writing disingenuous letters, and unnecessarily involving parents and students in this matter. It’s a predictable union tactic, but one that we think is unfair to our community residents.
On behalf of the entire Locust Valley CSD community, we remain committed to resolution and encourage our faculty’s leadership to help us create a meaningful solution to our current differences.
The Locust Valley CSD Board of Education