New Milford teachers: ‘Morale is low’
Updated 3:19 pm, Thursday, August 20, 2015
The new school year will start Monday, Aug. 24 in New Milford.
Unfortunately, teacher morale is at a low ebb, at least according to teachers’ union president Kim Patella.
“Teachers usually look forward to a new school year,” Patella said. “Not this year. Morale is the lowest I have ever seen it.”
“Teachers are frustrated about the (school) calendar,” she added. “They are struggling to arrange day care and cannot figure out how they are going to plan lessons and assess work when they have so many mandatory afternoon and evening meetings.”
In June, the union had filed a complaint with the state labor board regarding a viewed breach of contract between the teachers and the Board of Education concerning the number of after-school meetings and parent conferences contained in the district’s 2015-16 school calendar.
The more than 10 scheduled night meetings would go against the agreed number in arbitration in November 2014, the teachers’ union claims.
JeanAnn Paddyfote, New Milford’s superintendent of schools, sees the issue from a different perspective.
She said Tuesday every bargaining unit has “dissatisfied members” but she does not believe the majority of teachers have any issue with the situation.
“The board clearly won the arbitration award on this issue,” Paddyfote said. “The union can take this to whatever level it wants, of course. But I commend and compliment the teachers who have been upbeat and positive.”
An informational hearing was held Aug. 14 with Patella, state Education Association attorney Adrienne DeLuca and union representative Tom Kennedy meeting with Paddyfote, the school district’s director of personnel, Ellamae Baldelli, and the board’s attorney, William Cannon.
“There was no resolution,” Kennedy said. “To continue to a formal hearing before the labor board, the burden is on the union to demonstrate that the board knowingly, willingly and maliciously ignored the collective bargaining agreement.”
As a result, the union withdrew the complaint without prejudice because the “bar was too high” to prove breach of contract, Kennedy said.
This week, a grievance is to be filed by the union, which would require showing the contract has been violated, he explained.
“A grievance is a lengthy process,” Kennedy said, “but less technical to prove.”
“It will likely be next week when we sit down with the superintendent,” he remarked. “No lawyers will be involved. If she denies the grievance, the union can next bring the grievance before the Board of Education, likely at its early October meeting.”
Patella said teachers “do not feel valued” in New Milford and many are looking for other options.
In addition to the calendar issue, she said there has not enough time provided for those changing schools to unpack and set up classrooms before school starts Monday.
Teachers are concerned students will come in to classrooms not ready on day one, Patella said.
“Teachers in New Milford feel completely disrespected by the board and the superintendent,” Patella said Tuesday. “As professionals, the teachers will do everything they can to make students feel welcome. However, they do not feel valued here and many are looking for other options.”
Paddyfote said she saw teachers in classrooms Monday who were “happy with their new classrooms” and who had been coming in since Aug. 10 to get their rooms ready.
“I think there is a small number of teachers who have issues,” Paddyfote said. “There always are in any bargaining unit.”
“But I am very pleased with the teachers have who shown a positive attitude,” she concluded, “about the changes and the start of the new school year.”
In the wake of the closing of John Pettibone School in June, the 2015-16 school year will start Monday with a new configuration of just two elementary schools for kindergarten through second grade — Hill and Plain and Northville schools.
New Milford High School will also open Monday for grades nine to 12.
The Pettibone School building and property will be turned over to the town in September.