Hartford Public Schools and the teacher's union are closing in on an agreement, but that didn't stop teachers from coming out and giving the Board of Education an earful.
"I can't even remember the last time I got a raise. I'm so angry. I can't even express how angry I am," said one teacher when she went to the podium during public comment.
For the last two years Hartford teachers say they've had a pay freeze. The Hartford Federation of Teachers says HPS proposed another two-year pay freeze as well as reducing the number of sick days and changing the health care coverage for all teachers.
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Negotiations collapsed and were sent to arbitration. That led to teachers rallying outside a special BOE meeting last week. They weren't allowed inside because the meeting went into executive session as previously planned.
But this week, a change.
"I feel like [the BOE] listened to teachers. We really felt heartened that they were willing to listen to us, that we were able to unite and have that conversation," said Hartford teacher Tiffany Moyer-Washington.
The union sent a letter to members saying they're in the final stages of completing a deal for a collective bargaining agreement.
The letter reads in part: "We believe the BOE will be informed at its January 15, 2019 meeting that there is a deal in place that will be presented to the arbitration panel.
As you know, the HFT and BOE are presently in the arbitration process. Any agreement reached by the HFT and the BOE will be submitted to the arbitration panel and then become a stipulated arbitration award. We expect to finalize an agreement with the BOE in the next day or two and will forward that agreement to the panel. Once the arbitration panel renders its stipulated award, we will present it to you."
"We don't know exactly the details of that [agreement] and teachers are still concerned that we don't lose a lot of the benefits that we had," said Hartford teacher Carol Gale.
Last week the union had put out a call to action for teachers to come out to the BOE meeting on Tuesday, but with the announcement that they were closing in on a deal, union leadership canceled that action. Still, some teachers wanted to come out and speak to the BOE.
"For a while we have been concerned over high turnover, high absenteeism with teachers because of stress, because there's not enough supplies, because we're not getting the curriculum materials we need, because we aren't given the time to prepare. And we're asked to do more and more for less and less," said Gale.
"I think this was an opportunity for teachers to stand up and say, 'Hey, you need to listen to us because we're the voice of the students,'" said Moyer-Washington.
Some teachers say they've had to take a second job to make ends meet.
The BOE Chair Craig Stallings said at the meeting on Tuesday that he fully supports teachers and that all the positive things in the district should be credited to teachers.
"There is no school system without you. There is no us without you. There are no students without you, and we recognize that," said Stallings.
Spokesperson for the school district John Fergus released a statement saying "We have maintained the integrity of the negotiation process with respect to this contract. From the outset, we have held the fidelity of this process in the highest regard and have continuously negotiated in good faith.
"The district has followed the required negotiation timelines throughout these discussions. It’s important to note that, at no time during this process did HPS walk away from the negotiating table. Information that has been reported and shared regarding the negotiation process and specific contract proposals has been inaccurate.
"As of today, HPS/BOE and the HFT are in the final stages of developing a joint agreement, which will be submitted to the arbitration panel, per the TNA (Teacher Negotiation Act) to be rendered as an arbitration award."
A final agreement would need to go before the arbitration panel for their approval. Following that, teachers would find out exactly what's in the contract. We're told that's expected to happen within a week.