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Plainview-Old Bethpage parents slam teacher protests

Meredith Radish speaks to the school board on

Meredith Radish speaks to the school board on Monday as parents criticized teachers for protesting wages. (Nov. 16, 2009) Credit: Daniel Goodrich

After months of teachers picketing and other job actions in the Plainview-Old Bethpage district, a growing number of parents have taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing protests they say go too far.

Parents note that many teachers have refused tasks normally part of their jobs - for example, posting children's art on bulletin boards or writing college recommendations.

Plainview-Old Bethpage's 500-member teachers' union, which has been without a contract since July, says it is simply trying to avoid slipping behind other districts in pay.

Residents of this education-conscious community say it's unreasonable, however, to expect more than minimum raises during an economic downturn, when some student services are being trimmed.

More than 100 angry parents turned out for a Nov. 2 school board meeting, and several dozen returned Monday night.

"We have our cups out asking for assistance, and yet we have enough money for raises," said Meredith Radisch, a dietitian and mother of two.

Scott Gutmanstein, a lawyer and father of two who was interviewed before the meeting, said he was offended early in the school year when he attended an open-school night and was handed a flier by a teacher dressed in black to protest what the union considers an inadequate raise offer.

"You know what? Times are tough," said Gutmanstein. "They've got to bite the bullet like everyone else."

Last month, the situation had deteriorated to the point where the district's superintendent, Gerard Dempsey, sent a letter to teachers, advising it was illegal to withhold normal services such as decorating classrooms and posting students' work.

>>VIDEO: Click here to see footage from the parents publicly criticizing the protests

School officials quoted union leaders as insisting they hadn't sanctioned the more extreme actions, such as refusing to write college recommendations. However, a similar incident occurred in 1993, in a district with a history of union militancy.

Morton Rosenfeld, the Plainview-Old Bethpage union president, refused to answer questions from a reporter at last night's meeting.

In recent weeks, teachers have resumed posting students' work, while continuing to picket and display "Contract Now" signs in their cars.

Meanwhile, both sides have agreed to a 2 percent raise this year which, coupled with scheduled "step" increases, would boost salaries an average 4.22 percent.

The union has rejected an offer of 2.5 percent plus steps next year. District officials and parents say teachers want the equivalent of 4.25 percent plus steps.

A union Web site describes its proposals as "economically realistic" for teachers whose salaries are about average for Nassau County.

A statewide union umbrella group, New York State United Teachers, says recent contract raises on Long Island have tended to average 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent, including steps.

Current pay ranges from $51,113 for a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree, to $116,205 for a teacher with a doctorate and 30 years' experience.


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