NORTH SMITHFIELD – A long percolating dispute between the school administration and the North Smithfield Teachers Association (NSTA) boiled over on Monday when the teachers voted down a proposed contract agreement and also issued a vote of no confidence in School Supt. Stephen Lindberg.
The two votes came after the sides have spent the past two years talking about a new contract but were not directly linked, North Smithfield Teachers Association President Marianne Lowe said Tuesday.
“Had that contract proposal been voted in, the vote of no confidence would still have been taken,” Lowe said. “These are issues that have been brewing for a while,” she said.
The proposed contract settlement was rejected by the union's membership 107 to 32 during a meeting in the North Smithfield High School on Monday, Lowe said. That action will trigger state mediation for the sides and a first session could be held as soon as next week, according to Lowe.
The vote of no confidence was approved by a vote of 111 NSTA members to 24 with three abstentions, Lowe added.
The vote regarding Lindberg “basically dealt with his leadership style, management style and educational policies,” she said. “It was a difficult decision for the membership and quite a few issues were brought to light,” Lowe said.
Lindberg or School Committee Chairman Robert E. Lafleur could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The union action comes in a school district that has gained high rankings in state student performance assessments and met all of its performance targets, even as its teachers remained without a contract.
Teachers were also the first group of town employees to accept a co-payment on medical insurance and also agreed to modifications of step pay increases resulting in additional savings under the past contract with the department, according to Lowe.
Lowe declined to discuss the details of the contract proposal placed before the membership but it has been reported that additional changes in step increases and medical coverage contributions are included.
The NSTA issued a statement on the dispute with administration in which Lowe stated “the faculty of North Smithfield Schools has created one of the highest performing districts in the state. Yet we no longer have confidence in Superintendent Lindberg's leadership, managerial style, and educational policies.”
“As the elected leader of this faculty, I feel that this is a personal matter between the superintendent, the employer, and the faculty,” Lowe stated.
Lowe asked that the School Committee meet with the union leadership “at their earliest convenience to resolve the issues that need to be addressed to continue our mission of providing the highest quality education in North Smithfield.”
When asked whether the dispute might result in a walkout by teachers given the lack of an approved contract, Lowe said Tuesday that would be unlikely.
“We are going to carry on business like we have done,” she said. “Our job is to educate these children. We are dedicated professionals and we will continue to work as dedicated professionals,” she said.