REA teachers end work day at contracted time amidst negotiations with RPS

Teachers Speak on RPS-Union Negotiations

The latest local, regional and national news events of the day are presented by the ABC 6 News Team, along with updated sports, weather and traffic.

(ABC 6 News) – On Wednesday Jan. 24, many Rochester teachers left school on time, something they say is rare. But they’re doing it as a show of solidarity as teachers continue to negotiate with the district on a new two-year contract.

Their message is to highlight all they do outside their contracted work hours for their students.

“Our teachers are very united on this, and one of the things we want to do is raise awareness above and beyond our normal, contracted day,” said Vince Wagner, President of the Rochester Education Association (REA). “Whether that’s brining work home, to lesson plans, to grade papers, so on and so forth. Many teachers stay outside their contracted day for bus duties. So, there are many things we want to raise awareness of teachers doing outside their work days.”

Both REA and RPS say they are close to a deal being settled but there are still some details they cannot come into agreement on, such as wage increase.

“I think we do deserve a fair compensation, and we are so close right now that hopefully we can come to an agreement here in a couple of weeks,” said Laura Unterholzner, a science teacher at Century High School.

“When you have the other side of negotiations doing that fairly consistently over an extended period and now taking an additional next step,” said RPS superintendent Dr. Kent Pekel. “There’s a point where I have got to make sure that this is a proposal that is solid.”

REA asks for improvements in health care coverage, increases in salary up to 18% and smaller class sizes to allow for more one-on-one time with students.

Many teachers say this is part of their worth as professionals for what they do for their students day in and day out, like Phil Olson, an English teacher at Century High School.

“I think the takeaway message is that Rochester teachers know that we are worth a reasonable contract settlement and that offer is on the table for the district,” Olson said.

Pekel says during the last contract negotiations -teachers expressed frustration over the cost of their health care plan, which is why RPS switched providers at the beginning of January to ease the cost for teachers.

“We’re taking that over and we’re going to dip into reserves to fund that for the next year and we have got to fund it long term,” he said. “And so, when you look at that kind of a shift, it’s really a fundamental, structural change that we’re making this round.”

Pekel says the district’s offer is within reason, but there are still certain financial constraints put on the district following the failed referendum on the ballot this last fall.

“When people say, ‘hey, you and the union are close,’ well, slightly less than $2 million is more than our budget for literacy and so it’s not chump change. And there is a point of where you get to the level of increase we’re at. Where you really have to say this is a really good contract and we need to be responsible stewards of the public’s money.”

Until a settlement is reached, RPS teachers will continue to end their work days each Wednesday at the set time in their contract. REA and RPS will meet for negotiations again on Thursday, February 1st.