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School Board to Hire Pro to Bargain With Teachers' Union

The Barrington School Committee is looking to hire a professional negotiator to take the place of the superintendent, married to a teacher, on the contract bargaining team.

The School Committee will hire a proven negotiator to help it to craft the next contract with Barrington's teachers’ union.

The negotiator will take the place of Barrington’s superintendent of schools, who will not be a part of the negotiating team for the first time in many years.

A School Committee member of two also could sit at the bargaining table – although that still remains to be determined by the board.

School Committee Chairman Patrick Guida confirmed these changes to the makeup of the district’s bargaining team. He said an RFP (request for proposals) seeking a professional negotiator for the board went out several weeks ago.

The teachers’ contract expires at the end of next June. 

Guida stressed that even with a professional negotiator sitting at the table, the School Committee will sign off on a final contract that will be based on a “framework and boundaries determined by the school board in advance of starting negotiations.”

“We will provide parameters to conduct the conversation,” Guida said, including a salary range and the issues the board wants to address. “There will always be flexibility to the guidelines. You can’t have hard and fast rules or that could be construed as bad-faith bargaining.”

A decision to take the superintendent, Michael Messore, off of the negotiating team was made in part because he is married to a teacher at the high school, creating a potential conflict of interest. That decision, he said, followed a preliminary check with the Ethics Commission.

The commission said "it would be most appropriate to not have him involved in direct negotiations,” Guida said.

But the School Committee also has been “hearing voices,” he said, that suggested the School Committee “could benefit from hiring a professional contract negotiator.”

The School Committee’s new team at the table, therefore, will include the professional negotiator and Ron Tarro, director of finance and administration, who has helped negotiate other teacher and labor contracts.

“He does a fabulous job,” said Guida of Tarro, who has partnered with past superintendents Robert McIntyre and Ralph Malafronte to negotiate contracts.

Guida himself has been chairman of the School Committee for the past five negotiations with the NEAB (National Education Association Barrington), he said.

“Typically,” he said, “the negotiating team provides an extensive report on the points in discussion that we handle in executive sessions.”

The law firm of Little, Medeiros, Kinder and Bulman is expected to be one of the applicants to serve as chief negotiator because Dan Kinder, a partner in the firm, has worked with the School Committee on other issues.

No matter who is hired, Guida emphasized, the School Committee remains the final decision-maker. And he believes the school board has “served us very well.”

Provisions in the contracts for co-pays have risen from 10 to 15 to 20 percent, he said, -- "a the first in Rhode Island" -- and there are no limits on maximum class size as in many other districts across the state. 

“I think we’ve had good contracts, negotiated in a collaborative way, that have been more than fair,” he said.

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