School Committee grapples over funding for contracts

Staff Writer
Published: 10/8/2019 11:37:55 PM

GREENFIELD – Questions surrounding funding for the Greenfield Public Schools remain unanswered, as was highlighted in a special School Committee meeting on Monday.

With the city’s contract stabilization fund containing roughly $500, School Committee Chair Adrienne Nunez said she wanted to speak with the committee about the funding process moving forward.

According to Mayor William Martin, when the contract stabilization fund began in in 2012, its purpose was to “show all the collective bargaining units we would have funds available for negotiations.”

Annually, money was added to the fund; however, at the close of the 2019 fiscal year, that process did not occur.

“We brought to the council the financial orders necessary to refill/replenish the contract stabilization fund,” Martin said. “There was no quorum at the (special City Council meeting) July 15 and that process didn’t happen. The result of that deadline period was that a recap will have to take place because we don’t have the end-of-the-year closing and we didn’t transfer any money that we knew we had into different accounts.”

Nunez said she wanted guidance for the committee to move forward, considering there are other contract negotiations coming down the road.

“As I mentioned earlier, it came to the attention of the committee that the contract stabilization account which has historically been the source of funding for our collective bargaining agreements first year, is empty,” Nunez said. “There is a need to have a conversation about process related to funding any collective bargaining agreements. We are in negotiations with Unit C, Unit A and we have a few other contracts that will be coming just around the corner.”

Superintendent Jordana Harper said she wanted clarification on the process as well.

“The question becomes that if the contract stabilization fund is at or near zero — what is the city’s recommended process for the city’s employees?” Harper said. “There are avenues that one could imagine being available, such as using the general stabilization fund, which would require a two-thirds vote of City Council. But I think it’s unclear at this point what the city’s recommended course of action is in order to be good financial stewards and for the committee to understand how to proceed in good faith in a general way.”

Martin said while using the general stabilization fund is an option, it is not ideal for the city. He recommended approving a tentative agreement and the school department budget approved by the City Council in May. That budget resulted in about $700,000 in citywide department cuts to fill a $1.35 million gap from what the schools wanted and what the mayor proposed.

He said the school department has a budget approved by the City Council. “That is the approved allocation of funds that the school department can spend,” Martin said. “The School Committee has not adopted that approved budget yet. ... It’s more difficult to change a budget if you’re already overspending an approved budget. That should be the number one conversation — to approve the School Committee budget to what we have.”

He also recommended that the city, School Committee and City Council discuss possible solutions to identify “the source of funds.”

School Committee member Glenn Johnson said the negotiating team wanted to accomplish improving pay, negotiating in good faith and being fiscally responsible.

“The negotiating team wanted an improvement. We approved a contract we felt good about, and then we were surprised that suddenly, the money we thought was going to be there to fund it is not there and we need to find money from somewhere,” Johnson said.

The School Committee is going to take up the 2020 fiscal year budget at its Oct. 21 meeting, according to Nunez.

The committee is in contract negotiations with instructional assistants (IAs). The John Zon Community Center, where the meeting took place, had a crowd of about 40 people, most of whom were in support of funding the contract.

During public comment, half a dozen people urged the committee to come to an agreement and eventually ratify the contact.

Susan Voss, union representative for Unit C who works at the Academy of Early Learning, said negotiations on the contract began in January and reached a tentative agreement in August.

“As a city and the county seat, we should be striving to become a destination for education,” Voss said. “Greenfield has this potential, but it isn’t going to happen if the pay scale is not increased. If you don’t put the money in the schools, you’re not going to attract quality people to work in the schools and the schools are not going be the quality they can be. Most of the IAs with whom I work, have second jobs. If they were to leave the school system and work their second job full time, they could make a lot more money.”

In her second year at the Discovery School at Four Corners, instructional assistant Tori Croshier told the committee she works three jobs to support herself.

“I am working three jobs to support only me because I cannot support myself on this salary alone,” Coshier said. “It is stressful and taxing to my physical and mental health and still I consider myself lucky because I am home alone, and I don’t have children or parents who depend on me. This contract needs to be ratified; we were promised this raise.”


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