The Huntington Board of Education turned away from approval of three recommmendations to the state after teachers spoke out Monday night.
On the table were proposals supporting significant changes in rules that mean more senior teachers are protected from layoffs ahead of junior colleagues, sometimes known as Last In, First Out; requirements that public school districts provide transportation to students attending nonpublic schools up to 15 miles away, and continuation of step pay increases, under the Triborough Amendment to the state Taylor Law, after a contract has expired.
Had the three proposals passed, the board would have gone on record with the state Mandate Relief Council in support of:
- Using the new Annual Professional Performance Review instead of seniority-only rules when reducing staff.
- Reducing the nonpublic busing limit from 15 miles to 5.
- Freezing step increases now required under the Triborough Amendment.
About 70 teachers turned out for the meeting and to hear teachers' union president James Graber criticize the proposed recommendations.
Graber, a high school economics teacher, said the value of the Triborough Amendment was to ensure labor peace.
Before the passage of the Triborough Amendment, Graber said, "Critical public services were withheld. The state wanted it to stop, but management had no incentive to settle.
"Triborough is not an unwarranted benefit to teachers but rather brought labor peace."
With the vote in support of the changes, the "board would be saying that labor peace is unimportant. The board vote is largely symbolic but it does not mean inconsequential."
Teachers in the audience gave him a standing ovation.
Trustees took pains to make clear that their vote would have no binding effect on the council, and that their vote was, in effect, symbolic, which prompted one person in the audience to ask, "why vote for it then?"
Board members, in particular Tom DiGiacomo and Adam Spector, explained that voting for the changes weren't anti-teacher. Spector said, "To not like LIFO is not to say anyone endorses FIFO (First In, First Out). The goal should be Best In, Worst Out. That’s what I expect as a parent and as a board member.
"It is fair to say that there are certain aspects of labor laws that are not as applicable now as when they were created," Spector said. " Someone need to make a first step to say that the model is broken. So the first step is to discuss it. I hope people will understand that these symboloic gestures are meant to stat the dialog of how we educate our children for the next 30 or 40 years."
Another teacher challenged the board and asked, "What is the driving force? If it’s a better staff, I can understand that. But if the driving force is money it simply says we get rid of the more expensive teachers. If not, the perhaps there should be a different madnadte that you look at."
Trustee Jen Hebert, a teacher by profession, said the goal of making changes in the seniority rules was not to force out seasoned but more costly teachers in favor of younger teachers.
"I in no way would ever want to hire or fire based on the cost of the salary and so the suggestion that we would look at LIFO is because of dollar signs, I can tell you is 100 perent inaccurate," she said.
While the board took votes on the proposals, which failed, the effect was to table any recommendations because they are expected to come up again.
The first proposal, on seniority rules, was supported by Spector and DiGiacomo, but opposed by board president Emily Rogan, Rich McGrath,Hebert and John Paci. Xavier Palacios abstained, saying he wanted more time to consider the measures. That first rejection was quickly followed by the failure of the other two proposals.