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December 2, 2013

Windham teachers, board head to mediation

WINDHAM — The teachers union and School Board are optimistic about getting a contract as negotiations head to mediation this week.

Contract talks reached an impasse in October, but the two sides agreed to bring in a mediator to resolve their differences.

The union and board aren’t discussing their differences, but contract talks in recent years have hinged on salary issues and insurance concessions.

There is optimism in both camps after a meeting among negotiators subsequent to reaching an impasse.

“Both sides feel better,” said Ryan O’Connor, lead negotiator for the 200-member Windham Education Association.

“We are optimistic and hopeful,” School Board member Stephanie Wimmer said.

School officials have struggled to get a contract agreement with the district’s teachers the last three years.

Three years ago, mediation failed to produce a new contract.

Two years ago, a deal was reached, but too late to get something on the ballot for Town Meeting. An effort by teachers to put money aside in anticipation of a contract saw the budget rejected by voters.

This year, voters rejected a three-year pact.

Should negotiators reach a tentative agreement during mediation, a contract proposal would go before both the union and School Board for ratification.

Voters would get their say on the deal at the school deliberative session in February and at the ballot box at Town Meeting on March 11.

Teachers have highlighted that possibility in recent roadside demonstrations where they have displayed a banner reading, “Support Education, Support Teachers, 3.11.14.”

They are trying to call attention to the fact teachers haven’t had a new contract for several years, O’Connor said.

Teachers also are attempting to promote the great things being done in Windham School District as well as their efforts to provide the best quality of education for the children of the town, he said.

Wimmer said both the community and School Board value their teachers and appreciate that during negotiations the teachers have continued to give their best for the students and town.

Only one date is scheduled for mediation, Friday, though that can change.

The two sides are trying to reach a deal this month.

“That’s the goal of the teachers and the School Board,” O’Connor said.

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