Cheshire superintendent concerned about budget cut, rejection of teachers’ contract

Cheshire superintendent concerned about budget cut, rejection of teachers’ contract


CHESHIRE — School Superintendent Jeff Solan said he was disappointed in a Town Council vote earlier this week to reject a four-year contract with local teachers.

Citing unrealistic wage and benefit increases, the council voted unanimously Tuesday night to reject the contract, which was approved by the Board of Education late last year. Councilors who spoke during the meeting said they supported education, but couldn’t approve the contract, citing the town and state budget situation.

“I can appreciate as much as anybody that the state fiscal calamity is impacting things,” Solan said Wednesday.

The contract awarded teachers raises between 3 and 3.2 percent each year beginning in 2017. In exchange, the teachers agreed to higher health insurance deductibles and medication costs.

Solan expects arbitrators will rule on various aspects of a new contract by mid-summer when the current contract expires.

Sylvia Nichols, a Republican councilor, said she couldn’t vote in favor of the proposed wage increase when private-sector residents face little to no increase to their income. The contract would mean an increase in labor costs of $3.5 million to $4 million over the four years.

“It’s time for a reality check,” Nichols said. “There comes a time when we must stand up and refuse to spend beyond our means.”

“We cannot pull money out of thin air; we cannot print it. We cannot raise our taxes to an unsustainable level,” she said.

Michael Ecke, a Democratic councilor, said he’s voted on three or four teacher contracts and has always been convinced that voting in favor of a negotiated agreement was preferable to an unpredictable arbitration and the accompanying $25,000 cost.

“But this is different this time. This time we have to go to arbitration; we have to make a stand,” he said. “This can’t go on forever.”

“It is in no way, shape or form a referendum against the teachers,” said council Chairman Rob Oris, a Republican. “The contract doesn’t reflect the fiscal times. We can’t sustain these types of increases.”

Oris urged better negotiations between education board officials and teachers to avoid teacher layoffs or program changes.

The council also voted unanimously Tuesday for a plan to absorb about $600,000 in cuts to state aid. Oris said the most equitable way to do that was to reduce the town and education budgets in proportion to each group’s share of total town spending. That means 63 percent of the cut will come from the current education budget and 37 percent from the town budget. The school district will lose around $400,000 and the town will lose about $200,000.

“We’re all going to have to take it on the chin a little bit together,” Oris said. “We need to find that money somewhere.”

Solan said reduced snow-removal costs or medical benefit claims might offset the reductions, but didn’t like depending on savings outside the board’s control. Asked what he thought about the way the council split the reductions in state aid between the school and town budgets, Solan said, “I think they’re entitled to that opinion.”

“I might not share that,” he added. “Everything in our budget is allocated to address a need. There isn’t a lot of room in our budget to absorb cuts like this.” 203-317-2230 Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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