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Published: Wednesday, 3/9/2005

Bedford: Teachers, board apart in pact talks


TEMPERANCE - Barring a settlement or outside intervention, Bedford's ongoing labor woes with its teachers' union are likely to continue for at least the next several months, according to officials with both the district and the Bedford Education Association.

In a letter to members earlier this month, BEA President Colleen Jan said her organization will select and train a new bargaining committee in hopes of eventually reaching an agreement with the district on a new contract, one that can be approved by a majority of education association members.

Meanwhile, Wes Berger, Bedford's assistant superintendent for personnel, said he is "in no hurry" to rush into another round of bargaining or another tentative agreement with the association, only to have that agreement rejected for a third time by teachers.

"There's no incentive to rush. We're going to wait and see where the BEA is," Mr. Berger said.

"It's disheartening for us to reach two tentative agreements only to see them rejected. We're concerned if the bargaining unit has a good feel for the [wishes of] the membership."

Mr. Berger said the uncertainty over a contract may start to affect the families of school children this summer.

Because the calendar is a negotiated item, school won't end until [June] 15th instead of June 9th as it was in the two contracts that were rejected," Mr. Berger said. "We've made two attempts to end the school year earlier."

Mrs. Jan said any delay in reaching a deal lies squarely on the administration.

"Apparently, it's not going to be a fast thing, because I've not had a response from the district on my last offer to meet with them. Until they're ready, I guess we sit and wait," the BEA president said. "There are relatively few issues remaining, but the district has to acknowledge that they are issues and make a true and valiant effort to address them. They're not going to go away through wishful thinking."

Association members overwhelmingly rejected a proposed agreement last month that, among its other provisions, provided for a 1 percent raise, a shortened school calendar, and long-term disability insurance for its members. The 201-91 rejection in February came a month after a lesser offer was rejected by association members by a vote of 160-144.Teachers are working under the provisions of their previous contract - it expired July 1, 2004 - that calls for 4-1/2 more days of school but also provided a more generous insurance package.

Mr. Berger estimated that the rejected contract would have saved the district about $400 per teacher this year because of the move to a managed care insurance plan. Last week, the board accepted new three-year contracts with its food service workers and paraprofessionals, bringing to five the number of employee groups currently under contract.

The food service workers are scheduled to receive 1 percent raises in each year of the agreement, while the paraprofessionals will receive a raise of 15 cents an hour. Both agreements are retroactive to July 1, 2004, and expire in 2007. Both groups also agreed to move their health insurance coverage to a managed-care plan.

Though the education association is still the largest employee group not under contract, it is not the only one, Mr. Berger said. The district still must reach agreements with the Teamsters and AFSCME, unions that represent district bus drivers and secretaries, respectively.

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