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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 17, 2008

Longer school day
Teachers get 14% raises over 3 years

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland teachers have a new three-year contract that will give them substantial raises and will lengthen the elementary-school day.

 The contract, which runs from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2011, grants 4.7-percent raises in the first year, 4.4 percent in the second year, and 4.4 percent raises again in the third year.

 Guilderland teachers progress up a 23-step schedule. A teacher on the first step in 2008-09 will earn $42,000 while a teacher on the highest step will earn $71,909.

Larry Tuxbury, the chief negotiator for the teachers’ union said he was “absolutely” pleased with the raises, “especially considering the concerns in the economy.” He said the union wanted salaries to be competitive with the other Suburban Council districts.

“We’re not at the top of the Suburban Council in percentage increases or salaries,” said Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Susan Tangorre. “We’re towards the median or below.”

The contract negotiations had taken longer than usual; there were 14 sessions in all, said Tangorre

The Guilderland Teachers’ Association approved the contract at the end of the school year, on June 25, by a vote of 344 to 36.

The contract was ratified by all seven of the nine school-board members present at the July 1 meeting. That meeting was dominated by a crowd of over 300, protesting the transfer of two high-school teachers to the middle school, so, after the crowd had left, the contract ratification was virtually unnoticed.

The GTA has 491 members including teachers from kindergarten through high school, school nurses, and school counselors. Salaries and benefits are the single largest force driving the district’s $84 million budget.

Longer school day

Beginning with the next school year, elementary teachers will work for seven hours and 45 minutes each day, 25 minutes more than before.

“This is not necessarily a change for students,” said Tangorre. “We don’t want people all excited that they’ll have to pack lunches earlier or have kids out to the curb earlier.”

Come September, the longer day will match the days at the middle school and high school, Tangorre said.

Last year, a committee had studied the length of school days in hopes of finding a more efficient way to route buses, but was unable to come up with a new plan.

“If you have equal starting and ending times, it allows more potential flexibility,” said Tangorre. “A committee will look at how to implement this.”

The proposal for the longer day was brought to the table by the district. “We’re taking it as a positive thing,” said Tuxbury. Elementary teachers have a packed schedule with many demands placed on them, he said. “This provides an opportunity for teachers to have a little more space and time for collaboration and planning,” he said.

In the future, the state may require more physical-education classes, Tangorre said. Currently, New York requires elementary students to have four 30-minute sessions each week.

“We have three times,” said Tangorre, but the state counts teachers’ taking their students outside as the fourth session. “But it really encourages four times a week with certified physical-education teachers.”

Also, last year, the district added foreign-language instruction for kindergartners, first-graders, and second-graders. Next year, third-graders will start learning Spanish, too, with the upper grades to be phased in later.

“It was like a chicken and egg piece,” said Tangorre on which needed to come first, a longer day or more programs.

“The committee will look at monetary and scheduling impact,” said Tangorre. She went on about a longer school day for children, “Chances are, it will be a phase-in. You have to give families time if you’re adjusting.”

Other changes

A number of small changes were made in the contract to meet the state comptroller’s recommendations, said Tangorre. “Much of it had not been rewritten in many years,” she said. “There was a lot of contract cleanup.”

One significant change was in the salary schedule for school nurses. “The nurses wanted a schedule more like the teachers,” said Tangorre.

They now have a 13-step schedule where nurses on the first step earn $27,500 and those on the top step earn $45,000.

“We would have liked to get more money for the nurses because they put in a lot of work...They are so valuable,” said Tuxbury. The salaries were based on what was offered by the other Suburban Council school districts, he said.

Another change involved the school counselors and social workers. They have a differential as part of their salaries for an additional 18.5 days.

“They are dealing with students and families in crises and sometimes have to work on Saturdays or over vacations if there are emergencies,” said Tangorre.

Previously, the added 18.5 days were measured from September to June, she said, while, under the new contract, they are year-round from July 1 to June 30.

“It gives us future flexibility,” said Tangorre, for example, allowing social workers to work in the summer-school program.

“In the past, if people had used all their days, we were paying an additional per diem,” said Tangorre.

Another change is that, beginning in the 2009-10 school year, same-sex domestic partners can be part of the health-insurance plan at no cost to the district. “It’s paid 100 percent by the employee,” said Tangorre, adding, “We strongly supported this option.”

That proposal was brought to the table by the teachers’ union. “There are changes in society as a whole,” said Tuxbury. “Gay marriage is legal in some states.”

Asked how many union members would be affected by the change, Tuxbury said, “We don’t know exactly how many gay and lesbian teachers we have...That’s their personal business.”

The union had hoped the district would assume some of the costs, as it does for spouses. “We were not able to get everything we wanted,” said Tuxbury. “Legally, the district is not required to do that but this is a step in the right direction.” He added, “We’re hoping the state will change the law.”

The district has a health-insurance committee that includes representatives from each bargaining unit so that the district doesn’t negotiate individually with each unit. For years, employees, including GTA members, have paid for 20 percent of their health-insurance costs while the district pays 80 percent.

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