Union contract raises pay for new teachers in Meriden

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MERIDEN — The Board of Education and the Meriden Federation of Teachers, in negotiating a new three-year contract, made increasing the starting salaries of teachers new to the profession a point of focus.

School district officials cited data obtained through exit surveys and interviews of staff who leave the district for other employment that the primary reasons for their exits were that they had been overworked and underpaid. 

According to figures shared by Meriden Public Schools officials with the City Council during its Jan. 18 meeting, the district’s salary scale for those employees remained largely flat over the last 11 years. 

For example, a Meriden Public Schools teacher who newly entered the profession with a master’s degree prior to the 2011-2012 school year earned an annual salary of $50,076 that year. Eleven years later, the starting salary for new teachers obtaining that same level of education increased to $50,952. 

That equates to a salary rate increase of $79 each year, or 0.16%, according to district figures. The largest increases were given to teachers considered to be at “Step 13,” the maximum level according to the district’s salary schedules. 

Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and Talent Development Louis Bronk told City Councilors Tuesday night that over the past year-and-a-half to two years the district experienced an increase of teachers leaving their positions for other districts that offer better pay, lower case loads of students, and the chance to work “in an environment that may be a little less strenuous, less stressful.”

The district currently has 12 open teaching positions, including several special education positions, Bronk explained. Three of those positions are filled by educators still working to obtain their certifications. 

“This is the first time we’ve had numbers that high,” Bronk said. 

Bronk shared those figures and others while addressing the council during that Jan. 18 meeting. The disclosure came during the council’s discussion of a resolution that if the members accepted, would have rejected the new teachers’ contract. The council instead voted six-to-four against the resolution — therefore upholding the contract. This means the agreement becomes effective on Sept. 1. It will expire Aug. 31, 2026.   

So the new contract increases the salaries of entry level teachers by eliminating those lower steps as they are scheduled in the predecessor contract. The first step will be removed during the first year of the new contract. In the second year, step two. In the third year, step three.

The Board of Education voted to approve the new pact in December. Under state regulations, municipalities have 30 days to vote down the agreement. Taking no action means a contract will automatically become effective upon its start date. 

The councilors who put forth the resolution to reject the contract said they did so for monetary reasons. With roughly 690 employees making up the Meriden Federation of Teachers, it is the city’s largest labor union. The overall general wage increase of 11.83%, which includes salary step increases based on years of employment, over the next three years, comes at too high a cost to taxpayers, those councilors said. 

“It’s our job to protect all taxpayers,” said Councilor Michael Carabetta, one of the councilors who proposed the resolution. Carabetta said questioning a contract negotiation is what the council is “here to do.”

Carabetta asked Michael Grove, the assistant school superintendent for finance and operations, a series of questions, including who determined a criterion during negotiations called the city’s “ability to pay”.

Grove and Bronk provided a joint explanation. It was developed by the board’s attorneys based on state reported information about the finances of all Connecticut municipalities.

Grove also explained that the 11.83% general wage increase is a computation that includes all salary step increases along with annual percentage increases. Grove stated the annual general wage increase closely matches the same increases received by other city labor unions, including its police and fire unions, over the next few years. 

Figures showed the current police union contract provides annual 2.25% wage increases. The firefighters union contract showed similar increases. The new teachers’ contract raises maximum salaries by 2.67% the first year, 2.06% the following year and 1.53% in the third year. All three of those pacts include step increases, with the teachers’ contract having the largest number of step increases, at 13. The teachers’ contract also includes different salary scales based on teachers’ level of education: whether they obtained a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or a six-year degree, for example. Grove explained increases cover the life of the contract average out to 6% over the life of the contract

Carabetta and council Minority Party Leader Dan Brunet made similar remarks about the cost of the salary increases and the impact to taxpayers. 

Majority Leader Sonya Jelks said she found arguments that essentially pit one group of taxpayers against another to be upsetting. 

“We’re all in this together,” Jelks said, adding it is the council’s responsibility to ensure quality of life for residents, through low crime, quality education and other amenities. 

“It is still upon the community to make sure we provide the same, if not better school options, for kids that are to come,” Jelks said, describing teachers as essential employees. 

“I support a contract that supports teachers,” Jelks said.

Williams disagreed with council colleagues that a vote against the contract also meant the council does not support investing in the Board of Education. 

“We have supported the Board of Education,” Williams said, adding he believes the city is not seeing enough economic development growth to support the increase. 

Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona held a different view, citing ongoing issues related to retention on the city’s side of the budget — in particular with retaining emergency dispatchers. 

“We know that a lot of the reasons reflected on our exit surveys too is people are leaving for better pay, smaller caseloads,” Cardona said, adding that should also apply to the Board of Education. “Historically, we haven’t been giving percentage increases that have been keeping up with our neighbors.”

He added that it doesn’t make sense to penalize the district because of the number of employees needed to teach. 

Mayor Kevin Scarpati echoed Cardona’s point and responded directly to an earlier point made about the level of investment in renovating and expanding the city’s two high school buildings. 

“What good is a quality building without quality staff?” Scarpati asked. “We can have state of the art facilities, but without teachers, those buildings are useless.”



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