Stonington teachers' union presses school board on cutting vacation days

Stonington - The teachers' union has asked the school board to either rescind its decision to trim April vacation by three days or to negotiate terms for teachers concerned about sanctions if they are absent.

The Board of Education will meet behind closed doors Tuesday night to discuss the union's request.

The letter from the Stonington Education Association requesting the meeting was not immediately available Saturday. Board Chairwoman Gail MacDonald stressed that the union had not filed a grievance but is looking for a response from the board on the issue.

As of Friday, according to preliminary district figures, approximately 60 of the district's 260 teachers or certified staff may be absent on each of the three days. With substitutes costing $80 per day, the school system could be looking at a bill that tops $14,000. Some of those positions, though, would not have to be filled by substitutes.

Between 75 percent and 100 percent of the substitutes needed have been secured for all the schools except the high school, where about 60 percent have been secured. Those are preliminary numbers and it is very likely more substitutes could be found by Monday and that some teachers, who initially expected to be absent, could decide to be in school instead.

MacDonald said Superintendent of Schools Leanne Masterjoseph has been talking to the school board attorney about the impact of the change.

There are questions about whether teachers who miss class on those three days would be paid, as the contract does not state that teachers are paid for personal days unlike other types of leave, which the contract specifies are paid. In addition, the contract limits each teacher to two personal days per year.

There is also a question about how to deal with a contract provision that only allows one or two teachers at a time per school, depending on its size, to take the same personal days.

Masterjoseph said late last week that the personal day requests that are approved are paid in most circumstances.

She added that when the number of personal day requests exceed the limit at a school, teachers can submit requests for special consideration to her office and she has the ability to approve or deny those requests.

In addition, the contract states that teachers are to be in class for 182 days this school year, but with the change the board made they would be only 180 days of classroom instruction. Some residents have questioned what teachers would do those other two days or if they would be paid if they do not work.

"There are some issues that need to be settled," MacDonald said.

State law allows the board to go into executive session to discuss strategy in connection with collective bargaining. But the board will have to return to open session to make any decision. In addition, MacDonald said she expects the board would have a statement at the conclusion of the 7 p.m. meeting at the School Administration Building.

MacDonald said that when the union letter arrived last week, Masterjoseph asked her whether the board wanted to reconsider its decision to have school in session on April 11, 12 and 13.

"I told her that no one on the board has told me we made a mistake and should rescind this. But when we sit down next week, anything is possible," MacDonald said.

Two weeks ago, the board voted to keep graduation on June 8 and eliminate April 11, 12 and 13 from the upcoming vacation to make up for the three days that school was closed after Tropical Storm Irene.

It was later learned that the original 2011-12 school calendar adopted by the Board of Education violated state law because it set a specified graduation date, June 8, but did not have the 185 school days the state requires when a specific graduation date is set.

The decision has created a controversy, as many parents say their children will not be in class April 11-13 because they have made travel plans. Some parents who do not have plans say they are worried about what will be taught those three days if large numbers of students and teachers are absent.

If the April vacation days had not been eliminated, the graduation date would have had to be changed, jeopardizing plans for the all-night graduation party. Another option would have been for seniors to attend class for three days after getting their diplomas, an option opposed by high school Principal Stephen Murphy.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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