REGION 4-– A new three-year contract for teachers provides a total salary increase of 9.5 percent over three years, including 3.9 percent for 2013-2014, 1.7 percent for 2014-2015, and 3.9 percent in 2015-2016.
The contract for about 220 teachers in the Chester-Deep River-Essex school district has been approved by the union. The agreement was approved at a Dec. 6 meeting by three of the district’s four school boards. The Chester Board of Education, which governs the operation of Chester Elementary School, lacked a required quorum at the Dec. 6 meeting, with a Dec. 18 special meeting called to vote on the agreement which must be approved in separate votes by each of the four boards.
The votes at Thursday’s meeting were not unanimous, with some board members expressing concern about the total cost of the salary package after details of the agreement were presented by labor lawyer Kevin Roy with the Hartford firm of Shipman & Goodman. The agreement had been concluded in early October with assistance from a state mediator. While the local school boards for Deep River and Essex were unanimous in approving the contract, three members of the Region 4 Board of Education dissented after first asking for more time to consider the agreement.
Board member Ann Monaghan, a Chester Democrat, questioned whether the total salary package would “sit well”, with district taxpayers in the continuing economic slowdown. Wendy King, the chairwoman of the Chester Board of Education who is chairwoman of the combined Supervision District Board for 2012-2013, said “these numbers are the best numbers we could have obtained,” without entering last and best offer binding arbitration. King said the binding arbitration process would cost the district up to $100,000 with no guarantee of a lower salary package. Monaghan later abstained from voting on the agreement, with board members Mario Gioco of Chester and Laurie Tomlinson of Deep River, both Republicans, voting no.
The salary increases will vary for each teacher, depending on what step the employee is on in the district’s salary schedule. About 25 percent of the district’s teachers are veteran educators at the top step of the salary schedule. The salary package includes step increases for 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, but no step increases in 2014-2015.
The agreement also requires teachers to pay an increasing share of their health insurance costs. The employee share under the district’s preferred provider plan would increase from the current 18 percent to 18.5 percent in July, 19 percent in July 2014, and 20 percent in July 2015. Employee shares under the health savings account option would rise to 15.5 percent in 2015-2016. Teachers volunteering for extracurricular activities, such as coaches, advisors and tutors, would receive a one percent increase in their annual stipend in each of the three years.
The overall cost of the salary package will vary for each school board depending on the number of teachers at the various steps on the salary schedule. For the Region 4 Board of Education, which governs the operation of Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School, the cost increase over three years would be 9.12 percent. The salary package would be most costly for the Deep River Board of Education, 11.3 percent over three years. The total increase would be 9.65 percent for the Essex Board of Education, 9.39 percent for the Chester Board of Education, and 9.34 percent for personnel providing shared services for the supervision district.
The current contract which expires June 30 was part of a two-year wage/salary reopener that was provided under an agreement first negotiated in 2009. The salary reopener negotiated in the fall of 2010 with help from a state mediator provided a one-half percent general increase for 2011-2012, with a two percent increase for teachers at the top step. For the current year, there was a one-half percent increase for teachers at the top step, with basic step increases for all other teachers.
If the agreement is approved by the Chester school board on Dec. 18, it must then be posted with the town clerks of each town for 20 days, a period during which the board of selectmen of each town could decide to challenge the agreement and send it to a town meeting vote. Such a challenge has never occurred in previous Region 4 contract negotiations. Negotiations would move to binding arbitration if the agreement is not approved by the four school boards.
Deep River First Selectman Richard Smith said Friday he believes the raises provided under the contract are “pretty high,” and “front loaded” to have a major impact on the budgets and tax rates for 2013-2014. Smith said Deep River selectmen would discuss the contract at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday.