WESTERLY — Negotiations that started last winter on a new labor agreement between the School Committee and the town's public school teachers have failed to yield a new contract. The Westerly Teachers Association, the union that represents the educators, has so far turned down two proposals.
Agreement on several points, including compensation and length of work day, has proven elusive, said School Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy. She said the district's current length of day is the shortest of any neighboring community. The two sides have also been unable to agree on "professional responsibilities and expectations," Chiaradio Bowdy said.
The teachers are currently working under a three-year contract that expired Aug. 31. Colleen Saila, president of the Westerly Teachers Association and a teacher in the district, said she could not answer questions for this article.
"I cannot reply to your questions because I am bound by the ground rules agreed upon by both parties to make no public disclosure or comment," Saila said.
The School Committee prepared to vote on a proposed contract in late August and again last week but in both cases never voted because the union did not ratify the contracts, according to Chiaradio Bowdy.
"Twice in the last few months, the WTA team determined that they would bring the proposals and tentative agreements to the membership. Unfortunately, and again, twice, we understand that members of the negotiations team then advised against ratification. As a result of this, both proposals were voted down. The School Committee did not vote on the contract in either of these situations because the WTA did not ratify," Chiaradio Bowdy said.
Following the union's vote in late August, the WTA asked for mediation as a means to help forge an agreement acceptable to both parties. Retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams was agreed to by both sides and contracted to serve as mediator. Williams was initially suggested by the WTA, Chiaradio Bowdy said.
"It is our understanding that while the WTA leadership, National Education Association Rhode Island chapter leadership, and the mediator himself recommended ratification to the members, the members again voted against" the proposed agreement, Chiaradio Bowdy said.
The National Education Association is an organization that represents public school teachers throughout the country, as well as other support personnel, faculty and staffers at colleges and universities.
Chiaradio Bowdy said she looks forward to a new deal that is acceptable to both sides.
"We are currently at an impasse but remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached in the near future. Until this occurs, the latest agreement remains in force," Chiaradio Bowdy said.