Arbitrator sides with school administrators union

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

NAUGATUCK — Contributions to a high deductible health savings account and raises were at the heart of the dispute that sent the contract with school administrators to arbitration — a process that ended with an arbitrator siding with the union on all counts.

The Naugatuck Administrative Negotiating Association and the Board of Education reached an agreement on a three-year contract, but the Board of Mayor and Burgesses unanimously rejected the deal in March, sending the contract to arbitration.

Although the borough board rejected the deal, the arbitration was between the union and Board of Education. A copy of the arbitration ruling, which was issued April 24 and obtained last week through the state Department of Education, shows arbitrator Leslie Williamson sided with the union on all disputed issues.

The contract was signed June 2 and covers from July 1 through June 30, 2023,

The disputed issues focused on raises and the percentage administrators contribute to a high deductible health savings account.

According to the ruling, the school board’s last best offer was that union members would pay 70% of the deductible into their health savings accounts in 2021, 90% in 2022 and 100% in 2023. The union countered with 60% each year of the deal, which is what was agreed on in the contract rejected by the borough board.

The school board argued that teachers pay 100% and non-certified employees will starting in 2022, and it is “simply illogical” for administrators, who are the highest paid school employees, to contribute the least amount.

The union countered that administrators pay a higher premium cost share for health care than other school employees. Administrators are paying 22% of the premium cost, which will increase to 24% over the contract. That percentage is higher than what teachers and non-certified employees pay.

In the ruling, Williamson said if the school board’s last best offer was awarded the amount the union pays would increase for both the deductible and premium cost share, which isn’t the case with teachers and non-certified employees.

When it came to raises, the school board offered a 1.5% raise in the first year of the agreement and 2% in each of the last two years. The union offered 2% in the first year and 2.25% the final two — the same terms that were in the contract that was rejected.

The board argued that its offer was more than fair in the economic atmosphere. The union argued the board has the ability to bargain with the union for givebacks, furloughs, implementations of non-renewals of non-tenured employees and elimination of administrative positions at any time, if faced with economic issues.

The school board also argued that Naugatuck administrators are paid at or above the average of administrators in similar school districts.

Williamson wrote in the ruling that a chart provided by the board supports that most Naugatuck administrators are at or above the average salaries, but that won’t change with either the board’s or union’s offers, and the board has always paid more than average for most of the positions. Williamson again ruled in favor of the union.

This fiscal year, the salary structure ranges from $101,805 at the lowest step for the director of athletics, activities, K-12 physical education, health and wellness position to $161,353 for the Naugatuck High School principal at the highest step. Those salaries increase to $106,438 and $168,695, respectively, in the final year of the agreement.

With Williamson ruling in favor of the union on all counts, the contract in place is the same one that was rejected in March.

The school board spent $11,460 on legal fees for the arbitration, according to Human Resources Director John Lawlor. It’s unclear how much the union spent.

Union President Cheryl Kane, who is principal of Maple Hill Elementary School, declined to comment, as did Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess.

Board of Education Chairman Jeff Litke previously said he was glad the contract has been settled and he looks forward to continuing to work with the administrators. Litke declined to comment further on the ruling when reached last week.

Attorney John Gesmonde, who represented the union, and attorney Nicholas Grello, who represented the school board, could not be reached for comment and did not respond to messages.