September 26, 2013

Wilson: Glad Cockayne "agrees with me" on cafeteria workers

Democratic mayoral contender Chris Wilson issued this response to GOP mayoral standard bearer Ken Cockayne's letter to Board of Education members:
I am glad Councilman Cockayne agrees with me..   It is a well known fact by the BOE , BOF  and city council  that the cafeteria budget has not balanced except 2 or 3 times in the last 20 plus years.  The Bargaining unit of the Bristol Board of Education and Bargaining Unit 2267  did hammer out a very good  tentative agreement!.  I appreciate his support.  I think we must acknowledge both sides negotiated very hard and a well  crafted agreement was  achieved  with significant concessions.  Going to arbitration at this point is a risky proposition with little upside for the BOE.
The Bristol BOE has consistently been apprised of the shortfall in the Cafeteria budget.  In fact, other than making up the shortfall, which happens almost every year, the BOE  and the BOF do not provide any $ to the cafeteria budget.  It is alarming that the shortfall has grown to $280,000!  However that loss cannot be laid solely at feet   the cafeteria workers.  Their leadership tried very hard to bridge the gap.  Unfortunately new healthy food standards have been introduced by CT and the Federal Government which have driven revenues down almost $330,000 in the past year. 
As far as the process is concerned, The BOE negotiations was handled by a sub committee of the personnel committee.  Over 20 hours of negotiations were conducted and culminated in a mediated settlement with a state mediator.  Both sides agreed to the tentative agreement pending the approval of both governing bodies.  The BOE met twice in executive session and I spoke with board members who were not part of the negotiating committee( other than Mr. Dolan who was apprised by Mr. Amara who also was on the negotiating committee of the BOE).  I outlined the positives and negatives of the agreement.  Never at any time was any information withheld from any board member.  Once the tentative agreement was reached all board members were informed of the terms of the agreement. 
During executive session we discussed all the pros and cons of accepting or rejecting the tentative  agreement.  Board members knew full well the ramifications of their votes.  They knew these concessions would be benchmarks for further negotiations with this union and others , they knew the costs and they also knew accepting this tentative agreement  would provide a basis for further discussion of privatization if the concessions did not bridge the gap in subsequent years.  They also were read a letter by me from the board attorney advising the costs and the likelihood of success.
Everyone had full and complete opportunity to ask questions, share comments and make a well informed decision.  While I did not agree with the majority I respect their decision and viewpoint.
I believe leadership is providing people with the information to make informed decisions.  That was done in this decision.  I did not bully anyone or try to convince anyone how to vote.  That is how a democracy works.   I find it interesting councilman Cockayne can assail my leadership when he took no opportunity to discuss this with me.  I certainly would have provided him that courtesy regardless of us running for Mayor.  That is leadership and good public policy.  Making claims and character assassinations is not good leadership.  It never accomplishes anything and does not solve problems which is what we are charged to do. 
Another Democratic member of the school board also weighed in. Here is Karen Vibert's commentary on Cockayne's letter:

I rarely comment on blogs or the on-line Press articles, but I feel compelled to correct some inaccuracies in Councilman Cockayne's letter.
He states that information was withheld from the BOE members.  That is incorrect.  There were two sessions where the tentative agreement (TA) was discussed at length.  Any and all questions were answered by the members of the Personnel Committee -- Tom O'Brien, Larry Amara, myself, and Chris Wilson as Board chair. 
In Mr. Cockayne's post he lists several of the details of the TA.  This a bit disconcerting as both the BOE and the union had agreed to private negotiations.  It is obvious that some have "leaked" this information, but I do not believe City officials should be posting it.
One of the questions he asks is if the BOE commissioners are kept aware of the cafeteria deficit or is this a "news flash."  As chairwoman of the finance committee, I can assure you that the Board of Ed finance records are very transparent and all BOE commissioners are kept up to date on at least a monthly basis.  In addition, all Bristol Board of Finance members and City Councilpersons are invited to the monthly BOE finance committee meeting, though Councilman Cockayne has never attended.
Mr. Cockayne infers there is mismanagement in the cafeteria.  Again, incorrect.  Public school cafeterias have to follow strict state and federal policies governing what we are able to serve, which tends to decrease participation.  In addition, Bristol has over 40 percent free and reduced lunch.  Many districts are experiencing the same situation.
Councilman Cockayne asks several questions, such as:  Can you win the arbitration?   What will the arbitration cost?  Those questions as well as his others were all answered and discussed, not just amongst the BOE, but with counsel present for a professional legal opinion.
Mr. Cockayne also refers to what he feels is a lack of leadership on the BOE.  This is also inaccurate. Chairman Wilson is a very strong leader who is extremely knowledgeable about local, state and federal education policies and issues.  Bristol is very fortunate to have him as an education leader.
I would like to add one personal comment.  I am in my sixth year on the BOE.  Councilman Cockayne has consistently stated, on the record, that he would never support the BOE.  I find it interesting that he is backtracking now that he is a mayoral candidate.

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