Dover Teachers Union: We want canceled raises and ‘not a penny more.’ Talks hit impasse.

Megan Fernandes

Fosters Daily Democrat

DOVER — In the heat of the city’s budget season, contract negotiations between the Dover Teachers Union and the Dover School District have reached an impasse, according to union leader Lisa Dillingham.

Teachers are seeking to restore the raises that were effectively canceled last year, Dillingham said. A clause in the final year of a three-year contract allowed the district to nix the raises for the 2021-22 school year.

“We’re not asking for anything more than what was already promised to us by the City Council and district in 2019″ and “not a penny more,” Dillingham said.

Dover Teachers Union President Lisa Dillingham leads a rally outside City Hall Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

Dover schools Superintendent William Harbron said the teachers union and School Board have agreed to go into mediation in an effort to reach a compromise. Michael Limanni, the school district’s business administrator, said that the district is hopeful an agreement can be reached through this process.

Dillingham said last month she was hopeful for an agreement to be reached that would “enable teachers’ professional and financial support and stability.”

A preliminary adopted budget under review by the city does not include the raises the teachers are seeking. There was a placeholder estimate entered for a new contract, but it remains unknown as mediation and negotiations continue.

The mediation process is a complicated one. Once an impasse is declared, a third-party mediation team is brought in to help the parties come to an agreement, according to Limanni. If no agreement is reached, the mediator certifies the impasse and starts a fact-finding process, to review the arguments and proposals from both sides and suggest a set of recommendations for an agreement.

At this point, it’s unclear what happens if those efforts also fail to come to an agreement.

Dover Teachers Union makes case for raises

Dillingham said the requested raises are vital to retaining Dover’s teachers, especially after two years of “teaching through a pandemic in understaffed schools, with more demanding job duties on their plates, and increase in inflation rates reducing the amount in their paychecks they bring home.”

Dover Teachers Union members calling to preserve raises in their contract and to avoid job cuts demonstrated Wednesday, May 12, 2021, prior to a public hearing on the school budget.

“It’s a difficult budget year, but it’s not our fault,” Dillingham said. “There’s this constant push and pull every budget season, whether it’s in terms of the tax cap, contract negotiations, or how education is funded. There’s never enough to fund all the needs, and the biggest expense in education is personnel. With the state cuts, that gets passed onto the taxpayer, and I hate that, but that’s not our fault.”

According to Dillingham, delaying and/or denying the raises pushes teachers to other districts.

“We’ve got people looking and interviewing in other districts because they will start out making more money there, with more incentives like smaller class sizes or less salary steps,” Dillingham said. “They may not want to leave here, but in these other districts, they can find better compensation. This is an issue on top of teacher burnout that’s happened throughout the pandemic, which has caused a lot of educators to leave the profession. We’re always facing new, constant battles with things beyond the budget like policies, masks and curriculum. It’s just exhausting and takes a toll it takes on everybody.”

What happened last year with the teachers’ contract?

Last year, the Dover City Council did not approve the district’s default budget of $73 million, forcing Dover schools to cut more than 20 positions, largely by eliminating kindergarten paraeducators and teachers. Despite efforts and public rallies, a clause in the Dover Teachers Union contract was enacted to deny the planned level of raises. Teachers only received step raises within the 2020-21 levels, saving the district $1.7 million.

When the union contract was approved in 2019, it was designed to increase the salary schedules of public school teachers to remain competitive with surrounding districts. The contract increased the pay for the district’s 328 teachers (at the time) by a total of $4.9 million over three years, and it incrementally reduced the number of steps for teachers to reach the top pay from 20 to 15 over the three years.

The third year, or final $1.7 million, was eliminated after last year’s budget debate.

Where is the Dover budget process now?

After losing more than 20 positions and seeing contractual raises for teachers set aside last year, Dover schools this year suffered a loss of more than $1 million in state educational aid. Instead of cutting, the Dover School District presented the City Council with a budget that is 7.5% over last year’s spending plan, more than $4 million over the tax cap and includes the hiring of 11 new educators and support staff.

The city’s total budget, which includes both municipal and district budgets, is expected to be presented to the City Council on March 23. The tentative vote for budget adoption is May 4. The City Council is required by city charter to adopt a budget by June 15. In the meantime, there will be numerous workshops, meetings and public hearings as the city reviews each department’s needs.