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Teachers threaten town meeting storm; Issue: Pay raises for everyone but them.

Byline: Priyanka Dayal

WESTBORO - Members of the teachers union are planning to create a "train wreck" at Saturday's town meeting by presenting a motion to deny cost-of-living increases to town employees, unless teachers get the raises they're seeking.

An e-mail memo from high school teacher Gregory Gallagher urges teachers to storm town meeting and force a debate about "the unfairness of what's been done to the teachers."

The School Committee and the Westboro Teachers Association have been negotiating a contract since February 2007, but have failed to reach a settlement. Last month they declared an impasse. The School Committee made the rare move of requesting that the state Division of Labor Relations conduct a nonbinding fact-finding report, in the hope that the report will convince teachers to relinquish their more costly demands. The union, meanwhile, is pushing the school board to return to the bargaining table.

"There has to be a system-wide feeling that something big is about to happen and that a break-through will occur. It can if we all get behind the effort," states the memo, titled "The Perfect Storm," which was sent to teachers and obtained by the Telegram & Gazette on Friday.

The memo invites teachers to join the "Call Bruce campaign," telling them to inundate School Committee Chairman Bruce Tretter with phone calls to ask for his support.

"Today I asked 20 people to call Bruce and to call someone else in town to call Bruce and to ask those people to call someone else to call Bruce. He has to get at least 20 calls today," the memo reads.

Mr. Tretter said he has received three phone calls since Friday, and none of them was from teachers. One call was from the husband of a teacher.

"The other parents just wanted to know what was going on," he said. "They're advocating that we keep moving forward, and I said, `That's what they're doing.'"

Mr. Tretter said he thanked the callers and told them the School Committee is seeking a settlement that is "fair and reasonable to the teachers and to the town and maintains, the best we can, the integrity of our schools."

For months, some members of the teachers union - nearly 400 strong - have been picketing to garner support. More than 100 teachers protested outside a recent School Committee meeting, and many are planning to picket at the entrance to the high school before town meeting begins at 1 p.m. Saturday. The memo from Mr. Gallagher attempts to rouse teachers even more.

The memo says demanding that town employees - including Superintendent Anne L. Towle and Town Coordinator Henry L. Danis Jr. - not receive cost-of-living increases unless teachers do will "create a train wreck at Town Meeting" and show residents "that we will fight back with every political tool we can use."

The one-page note concludes: "If it works we'll be heroes - if it fails then worst case you'll at least be more organized than you were before I joined the effort and I'll go to my summer home in Ogunquit, Maine this summer with a clear conscience that I at least tried to help my colleagues."

The town coordinator, the police chief and the fire chief receive a 4 percent cost-of-living increase annually, according to Mr. Danis.

The superintendent and other school administrators don't get cost-of-living increases, but they receive raises of up to 5 percent a year based on merit, Ms. Towle said. She said she has heard about the teachers union's plans for town meeting but did not want to comment on "rumors."

While the union's leadership has released statements accusing the superintendent and school board of distorting contract issues and disrespecting teachers, town meeting will determine how many residents support the teachers' demands.The union rejected a three-year contract offer last October in a slim 162-155 vote. Union leaders have not specified why they rejected that offer and what conditions they are seeking. The association's president, Bonnie Ross, has said the teachers object to the "zero percent raise" offered for the current fiscal year.

The School Committee said its most recent offer did include a raise for the current year - the raises teachers receive on the 12-year step system. A statement from the School Committee described its most recent offer like this: Teachers in their first 12 years on the job would not receive a cost-of-living increase for the current year, but they would receive a step increase of, on average, 2.5 percent. The offer included cost-of-living increases for the next three years at 2.5 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent.

There was no formal vote on that offer, but teachers effectively rejected it.

Teachers and town officials alike say the impasse is the worst they've ever seen. And students are feeling the effects of it.

Teachers have agreed to work to rule, meaning many no longer spend time after school to help students as they normally would do.

"It's so damaging," John R. Pierce, who retired as high school principal last year, said about the situation. "I'm just concerned. It creates a distraction for everybody. It's very divisive. It does take away from the great school community."

Contact Priyanka Dayal by e-mail at pdayal@telegram.com.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 14, 2008
Words:869
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