ANDOVER — An email sent to 60 members of the teachers union urges the union to stall the accreditation of Andover High as "leverage" to obtain a new contact, according to an email obtained by The Eagle-Tribune.
School Committee Chairwoman Paula Colby-Clements says such a move by the teachers could be considered an illegal "strike action."
The email indicates it was sent to the personal email accounts of the 60 teachers by Jennifer Meagher, an English teacher at the high school and until recently a union officer. It says she hopes the group will work together to "put on hold" the accreditation until a new contract is reached.
The high school's accreditation is under review by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
"NEASC is the only leverage we have left at the bargaining table," Meagher wrote in the email dated June 10.
Members of the Andover Education Association are working under a contract that expired Aug. 31, 2010.
The talks had been stalled until a "fact-finding report" by the state — as part of the mediation process — was released. It was released last Thursday, and the two sides were to meet last night to negotiate further, Colby-Clements said.
She said she found the email "extremely disturbing."
"The NEASC process is supposed to be an academic and professional process, in which the faculty assess the strengths and weaknesses of the high school," Colby-Clements said. "It is not supposed to be a political process.
"To try to use the accreditation for anything else amounts to nothing other than blackmail in my opinion," she said. "On every level imaginable, this is just plain wrong."
Union President Kerry Costello said she has not seen the email but stressed it did not represent an official position of the union. She would not comment further.
In an email, Meagher referred questions about negotiations to Costello.
Costello said Meagher served as a union vice president up until June 7, three days before she sent the email.
The primary sticking point of the negotiations has been the high school schedule, which now requires teachers to teach three courses in one semester and only two in the other.
The School Committee maintains this is no longer fiscally sustainable and has proposed a "three-by-three" schedule that would have teachers take on three classes in both semesters. Colby-Clements has previously said that next year's budget incorporates a reduction of about $500,000 based on a change to teacher work schedules at the high school.
The high school is going through a self-study stage of the accreditation process, which requires reports to be prepared and passed by a two-thirds majority of the faculty. Several reports failed to receive the two-thirds vote from the faculty because a high number of abstentions, Colby-Clements said.
Colby-Clements said it became clear to the school administration that such a high number of abstentions may have been an orchestrated measure.
"We can assure the School Committee and superintendent that reports will be passed and NEASC will continue if there is a contract signed this summer that maintains the five-class load at AHS," Meagher wrote.
"We have enough votes right here on this list to get it done. If, in the end, the School Committee decides that saving $500,000 is more important than preserving accreditation, then so be it."
Parents learned of Meagher's email over the weekend and sent copies to several members of the School Committee, said Colby-Clements. She said she didn't know how the parents obtained the email.
School Superintendent Marinel McGrath could not be reached for comment yesterday. Colby-Clements said she hasn't had a chance to talk to McGrath about any possible action but the administration is likely proceeding with an internal review.
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