MARLBOROUGH – The Assabet Valley Federation of Teachers has taken a vote of no confidence in Assabet Regional Vocational School District Superintendent Ernest Houle.
President Joe Giarusso announced during the May 16 School Committee meeting that the vote took place in April. The union also requested to meet with the School Committee in executive session.
“This union is extremely disappointed in the fact that the School Committee did not invite us into executive session to discuss our concerns with them directly,” said Giarusso in a statement. “Our members are extremely frustrated about the lack of a contract and the lack of vision on the part of the district.”
About the negotiations
The union has worked without a contract since June 2022. According to Dan Capuano, the union’s chair of the negotiations committee, contract talks have been going for 23 months, and meetings have been “sporadic at best.”
“There’s been a definite slowing down,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can.”
In response, Houle said that the “district has always bargained in good faith.”
He added that the “district waited three months for a response from the union.”
Paul George, Westborough’s representative to the School Committee and a member of the negotiations committee, said the union walked out.
Union: District engaged in “poor financial planning”
In addition to pay increases, the union wants the district to come up with a strategic plan and a better financial plan.
In a letter sent to the School Committee last month, the union’s executive board wrote, “We have received no information from the district about any type of strategic planning going forward, and the union remains unaware of any five-year or 10-year plans for the School District.
On the subject of finances, the letter said, “We believe that the district has engaged in poor financial planning over the past several years.”
The letter cites spending on “signage, office space and administrative salaries while arguing that there is no money for cost-of-living increases for unionized staff,” among other issues.
“Funding for the district remains lower than for our sending towns. A vocational school should never be a cheaper option than a comprehensive high school,” according to the letter.
“Right now, things are broken,” said Capuano.
The union also wants the district to restore three health and physical education positions eliminated in August 2020 as part of a COVID-19 restructuring and cost-cutting move.
“By the end of next year, there will be students who have gone through four years at Assabet without receiving health education at a time when students are struggling with a higher level of substance abuse, are at greater risk of self-harm, and desperately need to be able to recognize mental and physical health issues,” according to the letter sent to the School Committee.
Dr. Shannon Barry, a psychologist for the school, shared her concerns during the meeting; she said there’s been an increase in obesity, nurse visits and depression among students.
Houle said the health classes were replaced by prep periods for shop classes.
Another union concern – hiring teachers without a contract in hand.
“We have been made aware that on at least two occasions, prospective hires turned down employment at Assabet because of the lack of a contract. A lack of highly qualified teachers will most certainly impact the educational experience of our students,” the union told the School Committee in the letter.
During the School Committee meeting, Chair Virginia Simms George announced that contract negotiations between Assabet Regional Vocational School District and its teachers’ union have entered into mediation.
While committee members said they care about the teachers, George said “there’s nothing we can do” now that there’s mediation.
“We are hopeful that our issues can be settled in mediation, but all options are currently on the table,” said Giarusso.
Teacher Bruce Long urged the School Committee to “give us feedback on what you’ve heard tonight.”