Some contract fights draw a line in the sand. Bellport in Suffolk County is one of them.
The search for common ground in negotiations has been difficult because some district leaders and the district's attorney are on one side, pushing an agenda that makes it tougher for teachers and the school board to reach agreement.
On the other side are the nearly 600 members of the Bellport Teachers Association, and tens of thousands of other union members who support them.
In many ways, this is the kind of contract fight that many locals are facing in this difficult period. The wide variety of issues really boil down to one — what's best for students and families in the district?
"You have a long history of doing what's right for students and what's best for your school," NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler told members at a recent, packed CBTA membership meeting. "I am here to demonstrate NYSUT's full support to help you maintain that record." The local, led by Spencer Stickley, has been bargaining since the contract expired in August 2008.
"Despite the local's best efforts to move on salary, health insurance, unilateral assignments to "extra help" periods, selection of coaches and faculty advisers, the negative message is the same from the district lawyer," said Vinny Lyons, staff director in NYSUT's Suffolk regional office. "This adversarial approach is a waste of time and resources for district taxpayers."
In addition, despite the local's willingness to be part of a collaborative effort on teacher evaluations, the district has demanded that the union accept language giving the superintendent absolute control over the new evaluation process, which has not yet been formally defined by the state Education Department. The local's efforts to resolve other issues, pending the commissioner's new regulations, have been consistently rejected.
"NYSUT supports your leaders and your efforts to resolve this contract," Cutler told BTA members. "You have the right collaborative approach to improving student performance — this community loses when the district says no to every idea to strengthen schools."