GDOE could extend contracts for teachers, support staff

SAFER CLASSROOMS: Superintendent Jon Fernandez, left, meets with staff of P.C. Lujan Elementary School during an inspection of their classrooms in Barrigada on April 27. With in-person learning scheduled to resume in the upcoming school year, schools have now begun preparing their classrooms for the return of students. Post file photo

Guam Department of Education Superintendent Jon Fernandez wants to extend union contracts for support staff and teachers to give the department time to negotiate with the union.

During the Guam Education Board’s recent monthly meeting, Fernandez raised the possibility of extending the support contracts.

“I would maybe ask the board, because we were considering the possibility of extending the contract until such time as we have a chance to renegotiate, maybe for a year or two,” Fernandez said.

The support staff contract, which went into effect in March 2015, expired in March 2020. It covers school aides, Head Start aides, community development program aides, bus drivers for students with disabilities, cafeteria workers and custodial and maintenance employees.

It’s not clear why negotiations didn’t begin prior to March 2020, as outlined in the agreement.

GDOE and Guam Federation of Teachers officials agree, however, that a new contract for support staff needs to be negotiated and signed. The contract outlines the responsibilities of the employees and GDOE in providing equipment and safe working conditions.

GFT President Tim Fedenko raised the issue of the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement for support staff and the upcoming expiration for the teachers’ contract during the meeting.

Fernandez wants time to research the support contracts to see if there is a provision in the contract for an extension.

“I'd like to do it by the next board meeting. If we could have a chance to research and discuss what those options are. It usually takes some time to negotiate,” Fernandez said.

The teachers’ contract, which was signed in 2017, expires next year. Among other things, the contract defines the teacher-student ratio per class, notes the number of instructional hours for teachers, and expresses the need for GDOE to provide classroom materials and other resources.

The current contract sets the student numbers at up to 25 for elementary school and up to 28 for middle and high school, with varying numbers for different grade levels, subjects and programs.

Guam Education Board Chairman Mark Mendiola referred the matter to the board’s executive committee for action.

“The board will then appoint six members to the negotiation committee,” said Mendiola, who encouraged any board members interested in participating in the negotiations to inform the superintendent.

The superintendent will then assign the negotiating team to meet with GFT, Mendiola said.

Improved working relationship 

What the board and GFT don’t want is a repeat of previous situations where both the support staff and teachers didn’t have a contract for years because GFT and GDOE couldn’t reach an agreement. Board member Maria Gutierrez recalled those negotiations and referred to them as a battle.

“We were having issues with the board and GFT, that’s the time when they were not friends,” Gutierrez said.

Fedenko noted that letters regarding the expired contract have gone out and he commented, “Mrs. Gutierrez nailed it on the head. It’s a good working relationship. We just didn’t want a repeat of the last situation looking at the support staff contract.”  

The option to extend the contracts will be considered by the board at the next meeting in August.

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