Region 16, teachers union agree to contract

REGION 16 — Teachers in Region 16 have a new three-year contract.

The Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, approved the contract with the Region 16 Education Association at its Jan. 13 meeting. The union, which has signed the agreement, represents the district’s roughly 200 teachers.

The contract runs from Aug. 15, 2016 through Aug. 14, 2019.

Under the contract, salaries, including wage and step increases, will go up 3.42 and 3.57 percent in 2016-17 and 2017-18, respectively. There will be no step advancements in the final year of the deal, according to the contract. Wages are set to increase about 2.6 percent in 2018-19.

Based on the current makeup of the teaching staff, the salary increases are projected to cost about $450,000 more in the 2016-17 school year, an additional $495,000 in the second year of the deal and about $375,000 more in the last year of the contract, according to school officials.

School officials pointed out that it is difficult to accurately project the salary increases out several years, especially with the recent trend of staff turnover in the district. Over recent years, the district has experienced staff turnover from teachers retiring or leaving for other districts. The turnover has resulted in savings in salaries due to hiring younger teachers, who make less, to fill the vacancies.

School board Chair Sheryl Feducia said the region isn’t the highest paying district in the state, but the board wanted to make sure it recognized the staff for their work.

“We came to a mutual agreement that both sides feel is best for the region, best for the staff and best for the taxpayers,” Feducia said about the contract.

The deal also increases the health care cost for teachers.

Teachers are offered a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or a high deductible health plan with a health savings account.

Under the PPO plan, teachers’ cost share, which is currently 19.5 percent, rises to 22 percent in 2016-17, 22.75 percent in 2017-18 and 23.75 percent in 2018-19.

Teachers who take the high deductible health plan will pay 17.5 percent, up from 16.5 percent currently, of the cost, according to the contract.

The contract increases the hourly wage for teaching summer school, which is currently $32.33 per hour. Under the deal, the wage for teaching summer school will increase to $32.98 per hour in 2016-17, $33.64 per hour in 2017-18 and $34.31 per hour in 2018-19.

The contract also increases the number of days teacher get for compassionate leave, which is granted upon the death of an immediate family member, from three to five days.

The contract doesn’t include any major language changes, but one unique change centers on teachers with perfect attendance. Any teacher that doesn’t use a sick day during a school year will receive a $100 gift card, according to the contract.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said it costs $80 a day for substitute. The gift card offers an incentive for teachers not to use a sick day, he said.

“I think also what it sets is a standard of expectation and a standard of excellence for a staff,” he said. “I think we have a great staff anyways. So I think it’s nice to reward people for that.”

The contract was settled in mediation with a state mediator leading discussions. Although the contract talks went to mediation, which was is the final step before arbitration, Feducia and Yamin both said the talks were respectful.

Yamin added that representatives from the towns of Beacon Falls and Prospect were an active part of every negotiation session and the mediation.

“I think it’s a contract which rewards our teachers as well as a contract that is fiscally responsible that maintains the highest of expectations for our staff and our students,” Yamin said.

Stephen Jerram, president of the teachers union, could not be reached for comment.

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