Borough board OKs deal for teachers

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NAUGATUCK — The Board of Mayor and Burgesses gave its blessing to a new three-year contract for teachers Tuesday night.

The contract was approved 6-3 as Burgess Laurie Taf Jackson abstained. Burgesses Catherine Ernsky, Michael Bronko and Alex Olbrys voted against the deal.

The biggest issue the board had with the agreement, which was approved by the Board of Education and teachers’ union late last month, was the wage increases.

The contract includes a 9.28 percent raise for teachers over the life of the contract. This breaks down to a 2.92 percent raise in 2015-16, a 3.13 percent raise in 2016-17 and a 3.12 raise in 2017-18.

“This is still too rich for the borough. I don’t think the numbers reflect enough of the concessions the teachers’ union could have made in order to keep the costs down for borough residents,” Bronko said.

In addition to wage increases coaches and department heads will also receive a 1 percent raise on their stipends each year. Teachers will also earn a 1 percent increase each year on the hourly rate for extra hours.

The projected gross wage impact of the agreement, including stipend and hourly rate increases, is about $731,000 in year one, $806,000 in year two and $828,000 in year three, for a total of $2.4 million over the three years.

Although wages will go up, Mayor Robert Mezzo pointed out that the borough gained significant concessions in health care.

The impact of wage increases will be offset by savings in health care totaling $435,000 in the first year. Changes to the contract, including salary increases and decreased medical benefits will cost the borough about $1.9 million over three years.

“I understand the concerns and respect the concerns about the wages. In a perfect world, if we are focusing on just one area of the contract, we would like to see them much lower. But the reality is that this is a collectively-bargained agreement on a very broad scale. The insurance product, which is something that has already been reported on, is something that doesn’t exist in almost any contract in the state. And, as I’ve said publicly before, the insurance is where our costs lie,” Mezzo said.

Employees will pay 100 percent of the insurance deductible of $2,250 for an individual and $4,500 for a family starting in 2016. Currently, the district pays 50 percent of the deductible of $2,000 per individual and $4,000 per family. However, teachers will only pay 5 percent of the premium in the new plan, down from 16 percent currently.

The contract reduces the number of prescription drugs funded by the district 100 percent.
Any retiring teacher who is eligible for Medicare would be required to enroll in the TRB supplemental plan instead of the district’s plan.

Many burgesses also expressed concerns that if they rejected the contract the borough would lose any gains it made in arbitration.

Burgess Robert Neth pointed out that the borough had gone to arbitration before and lost. He expected the same outcome if the board sent this contract to binding arbitration.

“Our history in binding arbitration stinks. So whatever good we have done on the insurance aspect of this contract, which is only going to benefit us in the future, we will lose in binding arbitration. We will lose that and probably have to give up the increases in pay,” Neth said.

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi agreed adding binding arbitration would cost the borough tens of thousands of dollars. The borough would also end up losing the ground it gained as far as benefits, she said.

“We cannot risk to lose some of the advancements that we made within this negotiation,” Rossi said. “I’m not 100 percent comfortable either, but unfortunately that’s not the position we’re placed in. A no vote is putting taxpayers in an even deeper hole.”

The contract also includes a more structured grievance process, eliminates two guaranteed professional days and instead leaves professional days at the discretion of the superintendent, reduces the maximum number of accumulated personal days from six to five and allows for flexible scheduling. The contract also increases common planning and faculty meeting time an additional 10 hours per year.

The Republican American contributed to this article.