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WARREN School secretaries receive support from residents



Published: Sat, August 25, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The secretaries' union and school administration are not scheduled to meet.

By AMANDA C. DAVIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- A good secretary can make life easier for his or her boss.

So says Dick Harries, an Edgewood Drive resident and Warren taxpayer.

Secretaries in the city school district are taking issue with contract negotiations and held an informational demonstration last week to get their message out.

The 72-member Warren Secretarial Association, the secretaries' union, turned down a proposed contract recently that called for a 4 percent increase the first year and 1 percent raises the second and third years.

And while they say they can't afford to strike, they believe they're already underpaid for a job they call "the backbone of the school system."

Harries' wife, Dillie, was once a secretary at a church and later took a job as an administrative assistant at a local senior center.

"Secretaries really run the place and they're involved in everything," Dick Harries said. "They're a significant part of the system."

The district is also negotiating with unions covering the district's food service workers and educational aids, and the union for transportation and maintenance workers has issued a 10-day strike notice.

Condition: District officials have said the proposal for secretaries contained a provision that said secretaries could get up to 4 percent the second and third years if rising health care costs stabilize.

Warren's health care is expected to cost $1 million or more in the upcoming school year.

Harries said he understands the district's plight but thinks salary increases should be proportionate to the cost of living, so secretaries can support themselves and their families.

Stacey Pitzer, an attendance clerk with the district's office of student and community services, said secretaries in her union work hard, sometimes handling multiple tasks at once.

The secretaries' contract, which expired July 1, has been extended. Pitzer said no new talks are scheduled. Transportation and maintenance employees could strike Sept. 3 if an accord is not reached.

School starts Aug. 29.

District teachers will negotiate next year. Administrators work on a two-year contract and are evaluated before raises are granted.

The school board met in a closed door session Friday with administrators and legal counsel to discuss personnel and contract negotiations. No one from the district's negotiating team could be reached for comment.

Important: Leslie Obradovich of Beechwood Street said she understands that school officials are trying to avoid passing rising costs onto taxpayers.

At the same time, she said, secretaries have played an important role in the education of her son, Tyler, a Harding senior.

"They're extremely important," Obradovich said. "They're the first person you communicate with and the first person you see when you come in the door."

Tom Klingeman of Kenilworth Avenue N.E. said school systems can't do without secretaries, but noted the issue of rising health care costs can't be ignored.

He said he's not sure why Warren secretaries demonstrated because it could end up hurting them if and when negotiations resume.

"I think it just aggravates the situation," he added.

Klingeman, who has had affiliations with unions in the private sector, said he understands that both sides have legitimate concerns.

"There's always two sides to every situation," he said. "Management is not always right and the union is not always right."

davis@vindy.com




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