Norwalk's Board of Education chairman wants to sit down with union leaders to discuss givebacks and has sent an official request to begin this process. We have asked them to come to the table. We want to know what they are offering," says Jack Chiaramonte.
Unions representing school administrators, teachers and support personnel have been the focus of city budget discussions this year. City officials and Board of Education members have repeatedly asked school union leaders for wage freezes in a call for shared sacrifice. At recent budget meetings, Director of Finance Tom Hamilton stated that all city (non-BOE employees) took a wage freeze this year and many took step freezes. He urged school employees to do the same.
Last week, the Common Council set the citys spending cap set at 2.4 percent, significantly below the school board's 4.75 percent request. Now it appears that the Board of Education will have to make several million dollars in cuts in programs and staff. City Council members have said if the union agreed to a wage freeze the district would save $1.8 million. With step freezes that number goes up to over $3 million.
In an interview with The Daily Norwalk, Chiaramonte admits that he has been frustrated by the school unions over the last couple of years. He says he hopes the unions will come through with concessions so that the board can protect the programs for the kids. People all over the country are losing their jobs and their homes, says Chiaramonte, who owns Sono Silver, a jewelry store in South Norwalk. The economy is not getting better and we have no magic money.
Chiaramonte says the teachers union contract is not in step with current economic realities. Bruce Mellion, president of the teachers union, has said the teachers three year-contract, which was negotiated in 2009 and provides for a 1.36 percent raise, saved the district $7 million. But Chiaramonte says that contract doesnt deal with todays realities. We have to deal with today, yesterday is gone.
Last year, the school unions came to the school board with a plan that included early retirement incentives to save the district $2-$3 million. The unions say they were ignored, but Chiaramonte calls the deal smoke and mirrors. We were told not to go near that deal by the finance department. It wasnt a concession, it was a loan at 8½ percent interest.
Beyond budgets, Chiaramonte thinks teachers unions "protect the adult jobs and the status quo. He especially faults unions because he says they protect bad teachers. We are sinking behind the world in education, we need reform."
Although a self-described free-market Republican, Chiaramonte is no stranger to unions. He says that he grew up in a household where his dad was union worker and had many friends in the construction industry unions.
We cannot sustain union raises on the backs of taxpayers. They work for us, not us for them. And who are the losers the kids, says Chiaramonte. I will do everything I can to make sure that the kids have everything they had this year.
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