Teacher Contracts, Work to Rule, and the School Board, Oh My! By Eve Brown-Ryder, Paige Graziano, and Starr Levesque

A teacher contract is an agreement between the city and its teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators. The Manchester school board and MSD teachers have been having trouble working out a new contract for quite some time now, with the main point of conflict centering around salary increases. This has caused a widespread uprising among Manchester teachers and an outcry of rebuttal from opposing school board members. For the purpose of this article, quotes and information from three teachers (two of whom work outside the district) and a school board member have been used. More teachers within Manchester were asked to comment but declined.

Educators in the state of New Hampshire cannot legally strike or deliberately plan to call out sick together on a particular day. Doing these things can get them fired. Since they cannot strike, teachers do other things to take a stand like color coordinating their outfits, entering and leaving school together, rallying before school board meetings they attend, and working to contract. Working to contract (or working to rule) means that teachers are working to the letter of their contract and nothing more. According to one source “A lot of extra goes into [their] daily business” like advising after-school activities and chaperoning school dances. Now, they do not stay after school unless it is their designated extra help day and do not chaperone events for free. That is the reason why the homecoming dance had to be postponed. Even though they “don’t take joy in doing this,” teachers, especially young teachers who aren’t paid as much as older and/or more experienced teachers, just cannot find the time to volunteer “because they have to find another way to make ends meet,” and that often means taking on a second or third time-consuming job.

The stalled contract negotiations have led to teachers being “frozen on their steps.” Every year a teacher is teaching, they gain experience, and the experience they gain leads to a bump in pay for each school year. Every time their pay is bumped up they gain a step. If the teachers do not have a contract, however, they cannot gain steps. This has been going on for years now and there are teachers who have “lost $45,000 so far not counting interest… [and have] basically worked an entire year for free.” Despite being frozen on their step, it is hard for experienced teachers to leave the Manchester school district because any school they move to would have to match their current salary.

“The school board and [the teachers] are having trouble even sitting down and talking about things,” because even though the teachers believe that there is “a little bit of truth to both sides,” the school board isn’t willing to change their ideas to the union’s likings. Until the school board, the teachers, and the alderman say yes to a new contract, everyone is stuck right where they are.

Manchester is not the only school district with opinions about the stalled negotiations. In fact, teachers from other districts agree that they would be upset if they were put in the position MSD teachers are in. Teachers from both Pembroke and Pinkerton commented on the issue. One says that they “would side with colleagues. Unions have been a vital part and historically have been a vital part of work in this country.” Another source stated that they would feel “frustrated” and “as if [they weren’t] valued.” Both individuals also said that, although they feel bad, students have to pay some of the prices, “the school district has forced their hands.”

Despite all the valid viewpoints of the teachers, the school board seems to have a different point of view. Richard Girard, a school board member in Manchester, was interviewed by New Hampshire Public Radio and claims that the school board’s hands are tied in terms of teacher salaries and that they “want to get a contract done, but it’s hard with a group of people that says it wants to negotiate, but cancels meetings [and] declares impasse.” In an interview with the Union Leader, Girard also commented, “Improving classroom conditions for the kids and teachers is not necessarily about how much more the teachers are going to get paid in a district that needs to have more of them and provide more to them. We invite the MEA (Manchester Education Association) back to the table so we can restart these critical conversations and bring them to resolution.” The rest of the school board has failed to publicly comment, for the most part, establishing these interviews as the general consensus of the board itself.

Expect the current situation to continue until the school board and the teachers sit down and come up with a workable contract. Stay tuned for more information as it arises!

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