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DeJongh Asks Teachers to Reconsider Pact

June 15, 2008 — A week after the Virgin Islands' two teachers' unions both voted to reject the V.I. government's contract proposal, Gov. John deJongh, Jr. issued a statement Saturday highlighting the proposal's pay raises and other benefits, urging the unions to reconsider.
The union voted to reject the proposal during membership meetings in both districts on June 5. (See: "Teachers Turn Down Contract Offer.")
“I realize that it has taken longer to get to this point than many would have wanted," deJongh said in the statement. "But it was important that we achieve a package that represents stability during a period of economic uncertainty, an appreciable increase in pay, and continued investment in our professionals as a means toward teacher excellence and improvement in student performance."
DeJongh emphasized substantial pay increases in the government's proposal.
"By rejecting the government’s offer, the union nixed a proposal that would have averaged salaries in the first year of the contract at $48,606; $50,171 in the school year 2009-2010 and $52,563 in the school year 2010-2011," he said. "Under terms of the last negotiated contract, a three-year arrangement, the estimated average salary was approximately $44,148.”
The proposal gives a bonus in lieu of a salary increase for the '07-'08 school year, amounting to $2.9 million for 1,705 professionals in the union, according to the administration's statement. That averages $1,701 per professional. This is an increase from the last negotiated contract, which had bonuses totaling $2.5 million for 2,294 union members, including all teachers: degreed, non-degreed, paraprofessionals and support staff.
DeJongh said the government's proposed contract would bring significant increases to teachers at all levels of certification and would provide a higher starting salary of $34,000 for first-year teachers, potentially attracting more young Virgin Islanders to the profession.
Getting additional pay for additional teacher professional days was one sticking point that factored into the two union's votes to reject the contract proposal. The government’s offer called for six professional development days for elementary school teachers, four for non-elementary school teachers and one pre-school working day for all. Under the now-expired contract, teachers had only two professional development days for elementary school teachers and one pre-school workshop day for all teachers.
Education Commissioner La Verne Terry strongly supports adding more professional development days.
“Teaching is a dynamic process and as such, teachers must continually refine and upgrade their knowledge and pedagogy," Terry said in the statement from Government House. "Continual training is needed in order to assist them in enhancing learning models and instructional best practices. Therefore, professional development must not only be stressed but provided for whenever the opportunity arises.”
When the unions rejected the contract, Tyrone Molyneux, president of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers, said teachers were concerned about additional compensation for those additional days, but were not necessarily opposed to the professional days themselves.
"It was felt if they are working an additional four or seven days with no compensation, that is to their disadvantage," Molyneux said June 5.
Chief Labor Negotiator Jessica Gallivan said she expects to meet shortly with the government’s negotiating team to discuss the next steps in the process. A contract with the professional bargaining unit needs to be hammered out before talks about contracts for paraprofessionals and support staff can begin, according to the Government House statement.
Gallivan did note that the parties have made significant strides toward reaching an agreement and “agrees with the representation of AFT Chapter President Tyrone Molyneaux that the parties are not currently far apart," according to the statement from Government House.
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