School Boards, Teachers Negotiate 3-Year Contract

The Region 4 district boards of education and the district's teachers union have negotiated a three-year contract that provides for an overall increase of 9.5 percent over the course of the contract. The 9.5 percent increase includes both step increases within the salary schedule and general salary increases.

The contract has been approved by the teachers, but, at last Thursday's joint meeting of the school boards, it remained in limbo.

The district's rules require a vote to approve by all four school boards. The Chester Board of Education, however, did not have a quorum, and so was unable to vote. A special Chester board meeting is expected to be scheduled as soon as possible.

The boards of education for Essex and Deep River voted unanimous approval of the contract proposal. The vote of the Region 4 board, which oversees Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School, was not unanimous. Board members Mario Gioco and Laurie Ann Tomlinson voted no and Ann Monaghan abstained, making the vote 4-2-1.

Prior to the vote, Monaghan said, "This is a large number, 9.5 percent. How can I defend this contract with this number? I've only been told about it now and five minutes later I'm asked to vote on it?What does this mean for next year's budget?"

Wendy King, a Chester board member and a member of the negotiating team, said, "These numbers are the best numbers we could have obtained." The next step in the negotiation process, should the two parties not reach this agreement, was binding arbitration, King said, "and that is expensive."

The district's rules require that all the individual boards approve the contract. This means Chester's board must vote approval if the contract is to take effect. Heidi Degree, head of the teachers union, said her group approved the contract unanimously back in October and was pleased with it.

Contract Details

Although the contract is not yet a public record, the administration released a summary of the key provisions.

For salaries, the parties agreed to an overall increase of 9.5 percent, which includes the costs of both step increases and general salary increases over the three-year term of the proposed agreement. The overall settlement effective July 1, 2013 is step movement plus a general wage increase on the top step to total 3.9 percent. Effective
July 1, 2014, the proposed agreement provides no step movement and a 1.7 percent general wage increase. Effective July 1, 2015, the parties agreed to step movement plus a general wage increase on the top step to total 3.9 percent.

The summary breaks out the cost percentage increase by school board for the overall three-year period:

• Deep River Board of Education

11.03 percent

• Chester Board of Education

9.39 percent

• Essex Board of Education

9.65 percent

• Region 4 Board of Education

9.12 percent

• Supervision District

9.34 percent.

The summary points out, "For the previous three-year term, from 2010-2011 through 2012-2013, there was only one year of step movement, and the three years prior to that, 2007-2008 through 2009-2010, there was no step movement."

There are changes to the health insurance coverage. Under the district's preferred provider plan, teachers currently pay 18 percent of the premium costs. Under the proposed agreement, teachers will pay 18.5, 19, and 20 percent respectively in the three years. Out-of-pocket costs for specialist visits, urgent care visits, hospitalization, and outpatient visits will increase moderately. For those teachers using the Health Savings Account plan, the annual deductible will increase, as will the percentage of premium costs paid.

The Negotiation Process

The joint boards of education held a meeting with selectmen and the boards of finance in each of the towns in July, several months prior to the opening the negotiations with the teachers union on Sept. 20. The two parties met again Oct. 1. Later that same day, a mediator was brought in. The proposed agreement is a result of that mediation.

The Joint Board of Education Teacher Negotiations Committee is currently comprised of members from each board. They are: Region 4-Duane Gates; Chester-Wendy King and Dave Fitzgibbons; Deep River-Christine Daniels, Miriam Morrissey, and Elizabeth Tracy; and Essex-D.G. Fitton and Judie McCann.

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