Meriden council to take up teachers union contract; some concerned about wage increases

Meriden council to take up teachers union contract; some concerned about wage increases


MERIDEN — The City Council’s finance committee voted this week not to reject a three-year contract with the city’s teachers union. The full council is expected to vote on the agreement next week.

We the People Councilor Walter Shamock criticized salary increases for teachers with uncertainty over municipal aid from the state. His motion Monday to reject the contract failed 3-1. Republican Councilor Lenny Rich was absent. Specific increases in the proposed contract weren’t available Tuesday, as it hasn’t been made public.

“Teachers work 160 days a year,” Shamock said. “They make an ample salary for the time they work. Arbitration is not that expensive. We’ve been rubber-stamping these contracts (for years). Not since 2005-2006 have I seen a contract rejected. It’s worth looking at.”

The special meeting was held to review a proposed agreement. It did not require a formal vote to accept, but could face more opposition when it reaches the full City Council on Monday. If the council doesn’t reject it next week, the contract is automatically ratified.

City Manager Guy Scaife told the committee that Meriden is in the middle range for teacher pay among the nine towns in its socio-economic group. Scaife was pleased to see that the contract eased seniority rules, eliminated the class size review committee and called for more employee health care contributions.

“The contract was negotiated in good faith between the Meriden Board of Education and the Meriden Federation of Teachers,” said Democratic Councilor Miguel Castro, who chairs the finance committee. “It shows they were sensitive to the fact that per capita income in Meriden is $27,000. It was a fair compromise.”

Scaife advised the committee not to reject the proposal.

Teacher salaries make up roughly 60 percent of the education budget, committee members said. The agreement runs from Sept. 1, 2017, to Aug. 31, 2020.

City Councilor Daniel Brunet, a Republican, also questioned the salary increases. Brunet, who is not a member of the finance committee and did not vote, said the contract summary was deceptive about the proposed increases.

“It greatly exceeds what we give on the city side including the fire and police departments,” Brunet said.

Councilor Cathy Battista, a Democrat, said the salaries are fair when compared to other cities and towns that share similar demographics. Battista said a salary freeze would run the risk of driving teachers to other districts, a scenario that happened within the police department over pensions.

Battista explained that teachers have to pay their education expenses to get their master’s degree and six-year certificate.

“The quality of our teachers is often related to the degrees they hold,” Battista said. “If you have a teacher or any other professional group, they are going to go where their degree is respected.”

Brunet acknowledged Battista’s point, but asked, “What about retaining taxpayers, retaining businesses?”

Democratic Councilor Larue Graham, who is not a committee member, disagreed.

“As we start to rebrand our city we have to consider the first thing they look at is not the fire and police, they look at the education system,” Graham said. 203-317-2255 Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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