Region 16 teachers reject contract offer

PROSPECT ā€” The Region 16 Board of Education and the Region 16 Teachers’ Association are heading to arbitration to settle a new three-year teachers’ contract.

The teachers’ union last Thursday rejected a tentative agreement that was arrived at through mediation last month. Later the same day, the school board ratified it with a 5-1 vote.

Under the proposal, teachers would not receive a general wage or step increase the first year. They would receive a 2.99 percent general wage increase in both the second and third years, with step increases frozen each of those years.

Teachers also would pay 1 percent more of their medical insurance premiums in each of the second and third years, up to 17.5 and 18.5 percent, respectively. They currently play 16.5 percent.

The net impact to taxpayers would have been 4.09 percent over the three-year contract, Superintendent of Schools James C. Agostine said. The current three-year contract expires Aug. 14.

The union’s rejection of the contract means the two sides will begin arbitration, he said.

The board and union started negotiations in October. They went to mediation Dec. 9, with Marty Weber as mediator. That same day, the negotiating teams for both sides agreed to a tentative contract, Agostine said.

Ten minutes before the board convened at 6 p.m. last Thursday, Agostine was told by Stephen Jerram, the union president, that the teachers had rejected the agreement. Of about 220 teachers, 107 voted, he said. The exact vote wasn’t available.

“We thought this was a good settlement and reached in good faith,” Agostine said. “We felt the process to be amicable and candid and productive.”

The board’s attorney, William Connon, advised the board to ratify the agreement, despite the union vote, Agostine said. The agreement would be a launching point in arbitration, he said.

Priscilla Cretella, the lone board member who opposed ratification, said the agreement was fair but wanted to know if there was a chance to tinker with the board’s position before going to arbitration.

Board member William Fredericks said the board will have a stronger position by ratifying the agreement.

“I think we should stick to our guns,” Fredericks said.

Board of Education Chairman Lisa DeGoes, who also served on the board’s negotiating team, said the agreement is fair, and the board’s vote sends a strong message to taxpayers that this is a good contract to support.

Jerram declined to comment.