2018-09-06 / Around Town

Union Disagrees on School Year

By James Merolla

The Newport School Department’s new school year is being driven by what is not in place almost as much as by what is. Last week, at a special meeting, the School Committee voted 6-0 to reject Superintendent Colleen Jermain’s proposed school calendar for the 2018-2019 year.

“This was done because the superintendent has not come to terms with the teacher’s union, regarding parent-teacher conference times,” committee member David Carlin said. “The School Committee does not want a repeat of what happened last year, regarding the conferences.”

In November 2017, the School Committee and the Teachers Association of Newport, the local union, could not agree on parent-teacher conference times. The School Committee wanted them held from 1 to 6 p.m., while the union preferred holding them during the school day. There was a delay in establishing dates and times for the conferences because many parents work and could not attend the proposed times.

“The administration felt that conferences should be convenient to parents,” committee member Rebecca Bolan told Newport This Week.

On the eve of the conferences in 2017, school administrators and the teachers union were unable to agree on a compromise, resulting in an indefinite postponement.

On Aug. 28, the teachers union formally requested that the School Committee extend the school year by two days so the conferences could be held during regular school hours on days when school was not in session.

“We voted on a contract extension of 184 days of school. Legally, we are following the contract,” Bolan said. “We are trying to work things out as a committee.”

Jermain told Newport This Week that “The present contract states that [parent-teacher] conferences would be a no-school day for students, so they would like us to change the present calendar back to ‘no-school for students.’ This would add two days to the calendar.”

The calendar also listed the 1 to 6 p.m. time slots, Jermain said.

On Aug. 26, union attorney Jennifer Azevedo sent an email to Jermain stating that no agreement was in place to hold parent-teacher conferences from 1 to 6 p.m. “They will be held during the day in accordance with our letter ending past practice,” she wrote.

“The School Committee voted 6-0 not to support the change because they would like to work with the teachers to try to negotiate the times that are parent-friendly… and have students attend a half day of school,” Jermain said. “Since conferences are not until December, they felt it would be best to try to discuss this first before changing the calendar. There is also a belief that this is a management right and the hours may be set. This was the discussion last year.”

The mandatory school year is 180 days. Bolan said two additional days would have been set aside for parent-teacher conferences, while two more would be set for professional development. She said the two sides must meet again to work out the details.

There were only six votes because former Chairman David Hanos, Jr. resigned two months ago and has not been replaced.

Precedent within the charter seemed to indicate that a replacement would be named within 30 days of his resignation, to be selected by the City Council. That would have been around Aug. 31. However, Mayor Harry Winthrop said no replacement will be named due to the upcoming November election, which will determine the make-up of the new School Committee.

“Mayor Winthrop stated right after David Hanos resigned that it’s really too late in the season to find a replacement,” said committee member Sandra Flowers. “The position would have to be advertised. Those interested would have to be vetted and interviewed. Present non-incumbent candidates would not be considered, of course.

“So, by the time someone became at all familiar with the working of the School Committee, it would be Election Day and the December inauguration. My only concern [going forward with this committee] with an even number of members is a split vote. It doesn’t occur too often,” Flowers said.

In other matters:

The school committee made 32 appointments to fill vacant positions or to internally transfer employees to new positions within the system.

One of these appointments, the appointment of a new administrator, the Director of English Language Learners, met some opposition and was not a unanimous appointment.

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