Amherst school union preps for vote on new 3-year contract, calls for public response to its no-confidence vote in district leaders


Staff Writer

Published: 06-09-2023 5:01 PM

AMHERST — A possible agreement on a new three-year contract between the union representing teachers, paraeducators and clerical staff and the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee awaits a vote in the coming days.

In the meantime, the Amherst Pelham Education Association’s executive board is calling for a public response to its no-confidence vote in district leaders and an update on its appeal for an investigation into the superintendent and for the resignation of the assistant superintendent.

The union confirmed Friday that it has reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that would extend from July 1, 2023 to June 30, 2026. Besides cost-of-living increases of 3% for each of the three years, there are other provisions the union asked for and received.

Those provisions include paraeducators in their first year of work starting at $18.33 per hour, going up to $20.55 on July 1, 2024; the top step for paraeducators increasing to $28.79 per hour; annual merit-based monetary awards for paraeducators; and 12 weeks of accrued time for parental leave.

According to the APEA’s statement, supplied by Claire Cocco, a middle school teacher who handles communications on behalf of the executive board, the union bargaining team will finalize the language of the tentative agreement in the coming days, then present it to all bargaining units for a ratification vote.

In addition, the union, whose members include staff at the Amherst, Pelham and regional schools, issued a letter renewing its demands regarding the central office that it first made on May 16.

Its letter, presented to the Regional School Committee, includes a letter of no-confidence in Michael Morris, the superintendent who has been on medical leave, and Doreen Cunningham, the assistant superintendent of Diversity, Equity, and Human Resources, who was placed on paid administrative leave by Douglas Slaughter, the temporary superintendent.

Beyond that, the APEA also called for the committee to investigate Morris and seek the resignation of Cunningham. Cunningham’s current leave is supposed to remain in effect until the completion of a Title IX investigation stemming from reports that middle school counselors failed to intervene in transphobic actions and fostered a culture of hostility toward LGBTQ+ students.

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“The APEA has heard no updates about what steps the School Committee is taking to investigate and take action with regards to verified claims of unethical and unsafe practices on the part of Morris and Cunningham,” the union wrote, adding that there are actions, separate from the current Title IX investigation, that the School Committee should take. An update is sought by July 1.

Ben Herrington, who chairs the Regional School Committee, said some members of the committee have been working on crafting a statement that could be endorsed and released later this month.

But he said the committee doesn’t want to do anything to compromise the Title IX investigation, and that appropriate action will be taken once that investigation is complete.