SOUTHINGTON — The Board of Education approved a three-year contract with district teachers that increases wage costs by 8.6 percent over that period, but also increases teacher contributions toward health care.
School board members, who unanimously approved the contract Thursday, said they were pleased that the board and the union were able to negotiate a contract without mediation or arbitration.
“When we do it together, it’s the best outcome,” said board chairman Brian Goralski. “In this economy, all contracts are complicated… We were able to work it out in house.”
Business and Finance Director Sherri DiNello said the wage increase percentage is the total growth in what the town pays to more than 560 teachers. Some teachers will get a higher increase while others will receive a lower increase.
DiNello expected the actual increase in wages paid to be lower than 8.6 percent since some teachers at the higher end of the pay scale would likely retire over the life of the contract and be replaced by teachers at the lower end.
Contributions to health premiums increase incrementally from 18 percent this year to 20 percent by the third year of the contract. Deductibles will also rise for singles and families in the second and third year of the contract.
“Both sides were happy that we were able to reach an agreement and avoid the arbitration process,” DiNello said.
The contract runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2022. Having a contract in place allows the school district to have solid wage numbers for the upcoming budget, Goralski said.
“Teachers in our state get a bad rap when it comes to accounting… All teachers deserve everything they get and more,” said Goralski. “It’s easy to target public employees when the economy is not good.”
Joseph Baczewski, a board member, voted in favor of the contract but criticized the process and limitations placed on the town when conducting collective bargaining. Teachers can only increase their pay through tenure, Baczewski said, which hurts younger but better-performing teachers.
“It’s a very frustrating thing overall,” he said.
Bob Brown, a board member and former teachers union president, said the system has its flaws but that it was better than the previous system. He took part in a strike before collective bargaining rules.
“There was no way to negotiate back then,” Brown said. “There aren’t any teachers getting rich because of collective bargaining, trust me.”
He feels there isn’t a good way to make merit pay work.
“The way to deal with younger teachers is to boost up the whole salary structure,” Brown said.
Teacher’s union president Dan Hart couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.
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