September 26, 2013

Cockayne: School board should reconsider contract rejection

Republican mayoral candidate Ken Cockayne just released a copy of a letter he wrote to each of the school board members:

As you may be witnessing the Republican members of the Bristol Board of Education have been taking a beating publically for your recent vote on the contract for the Cafeteria workers. It is my understanding that the whole board voted months ago to look into the privatization of your cafeteria program, including your current Chairman.
It is also my understanding that there was information regarding this contract withheld from you prior to the vote that you received while in Executive Session. I also understand were unaware of this information prior to the vote.
I have just been informed of the details regarding the contract negotiated between the cafeteria workers union and the BOE.  Under the agreement the workers have made some serious concessions, such as doubling their co-pays for cost sharing premiums that could help benefit your overall budget and reduce the annual deficit regarding food service.
The questions that need to be asked by the members of the Board of Education regarding the food service program are simple. Is it the cafeteria worker who has mismanaged this program or is it the administrators? Have you folks as Commissioners been regularly notified about the deficits or are they news flashes when issues like the contract arise?
The other questions that you seriously need to consider are: Can you win the arbitration? How much is the arbitration going to cost you? Does it outweigh the benefits of passing the union contract, and finally, are you as a Board able to privatize at the end of the day?
My humble suggestion to you as a Commissioner is to find out the answers to these questions before your next Board meeting in October.  If you cannot get concrete answers before then, I would make a motion to reconsider the contract and pass it.  This will afford you the opportunity to find the answers that you need and make an informed decision.
It is my opinion that this issue has arisen to this level due to a colossal lack of leadership with within the Board of Education Commissioners. You are being hung out to dry due to this vacuum in leadership, and it is my belief that you and your fellow Commissioners need to take charge of this situation and put the issue to bed.
We are all fully aware that your Chairman supported privatizing prior to his party affiliation changing and becoming my opponent. However, you should use this issue to demand future accountability by your board leadership and nothing less than full transparency regarding any issue that involves the Board for which you were duly elected to serve.
As for this issue should the cafeteria workers, food service program, and the Board of Education as a whole suffer for another year while in arbitration, due to this questionable display of leadership? 
I think not, and I would hope not.
As you well know, the Mayor, City Council and Board of Finance have absolutely no jurisdiction over the Board of Education as design by state statute.  This letter only serves as my suggestions to resolving the matter without incurring thousands of dollars in legal fees only to have the contract as written implemented.
Again, the solution would be find out the answers quickly, and if they are not available to you, than I would reconsider your decision and pass the contract as it stands.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Ken Cockayne
City Council – 2nd District

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Karen Vibert said...

I rarely post comments on a blog or in the on-line Bristol Press, but I feel compelled to do so now in an effort to correct the many inaccuracies in Councilman Cockayne's letter.
As to his claim that information was withheld from BOE commissioners, that is completely false. There were two lengthy executive sessions where the tentative agreement was discussed and all questions answered. In addition, Chairman Wilson called all BOE commissioners (before the vote) who were not on the Personnel Committee (which is the negotiating committee) to make sure all their questions were answered. There was ample opportunity for all commissioners to understand the ramifications of the vote on the tentative agreement. Nothing was withheld from any commissioner.
Councilman Cockayne writes in his post that he was informed of the details of the tentative agreement. It is disconcerting that he was informed, as there is an agreement between the BOE and the union that negotiations are to be private. I realize that some have "leaked" the details, but a councilperson should not publish this information.
He infers in his post that the cafeteria services have been mismanaged. That is also incorrect. With public school cafeterias being held to strict state and federal regulations governing what we are able to serve, along with Bristol having over a 40% free and reduced lunch population, a deficit will likely occur. Many districts face the same situation.
Mr. Cockayne "wonders" if the BOE has been regularly notified of the deficits. The answer is absolutely. As chairwoman of the BOE finance committee, I can assure you that our financial books are extremely transparent and BOE commissioners are kept up to date on at least a monthly basis. All Bristol Board of Finance commissioners, as well as City councilpersons, are always invited to our monthly finance committee meetings, though Mr. Cockayne has never attended one.
There are other questions asked in his post, such as, Can you win the arbitration? How much will it cost? And several others. I can assure you, those questions as well as all others in Mr. Cockayne's post have been discussed in detail.
Most importantly, there is no foundation for his insinuation of lack of leadership in the BOE. Chairman Wilson is a very strong leader who has 10 years of experience on the BOE. He is extremely knowledgeable about municipal, state and federal education mandates, policies and issues, and he is a valuable asset to Bristol.
The purpose of this post was simply to correct inaccuracies; however, I do need to make one additional comment. I have been on the BOE for six years and I cannot remember Councilman Cockayne ever supporting the BOE. He has, on the record, consistently stated that he would never support an increase in the BOE budget. I find it interesting that now, as a mayoral candidate, he seems to be backtracking.

Karen Hintz said...

I would like to respond to Mr. Cockayne’s letter regarding contract negotiations with Bristol’s cafeteria workers. He begins: “As you may be witnessing the Republican members of the Bristol Board of Education have been taking a beating publicly for your recent vote on the contract for the Cafeteria workers.” In my experience, beatings have been plentiful and bipartisan.
Mr. Cockayne continues by asserting “It is also my understanding that there was information regarding this contract withheld from you prior to the vote that you received while in Executive Session. I also understand were [sic] unaware of this information prior to the vote.” My fellow commissioners and I had ample information and time to question and discuss this information prior to voting. I do not serve on the Personnel Committee but I felt fully informed at all times. The Personnel Committee, which conducts negotiations, is composed of both Democrat and Republican members. Who is Mr. Cockayne suggesting withheld information?
Union negotiations are a sensitive and private issue. Chris Wilson understands that and has refrained from commenting on them publicly in any material way. He could be making political hay of this process but instead chooses to honor his agreement with the bargaining unit. That’s what makes Chris a leader; he makes the right decision rather than the personally or politically expedient one.

Karen Hintz