Borough school board backs new teachers’ contract

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The Naugatuck Board of Education approved a new, three-year contract for teachers Thursday night. LARAINE WESCHLER

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education approved a new contract for the borough’s 351 teachers Thursday that would give them a 6.1 percent raise over three years while saving about $1.2 million in health insurance costs.

The Naugatuck Teachers League approved the contract Wednesday after 90 percent of union members voted in favor of it, Vice President Charley Marenghi said.

“There was a good give and take. …We’re all pulling on the same horse,” said Andrea Fitzgerald, co-chair of the negotiating team for the Naugatuck Teachers League.

If the Board of Mayor and Burgesses approves the new contract, it will take effect Sept. 1 and last through August 2015.

Over the contract’s three years, the cost to the school budget would increase 1.6 percent, or about $515,000, according to a fiscal analysis by Business Manager Wayne McAllister.

In total, the borough pays about $26 million in teacher salaries and $4 million for insurance, rendering the cost increase comparatively small, Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson said.

“That’s amazing,” Tindall-Gibson said. “It’s tremendous for the board.”

The contract was finalized after several two-hour negotiation sessions and one nine-hour mediation session last week, Marenghi said.

If both sides cannot agree after mediation, contracts go to binding state arbitration. Most arbitration settlements are giving teachers nearly 7 percent raises over three years, but borough teachers agreed to take less, Marenghi said.

The 6.1 percent increase includes step increases, which are additional annual raises given to teachers in their first 13 years.

“When you string it out over three years, it ends up being a cost of living increase, when you look at it,” Marenghi said.

The contract puts all union members in a high-deductible health plan, which will lower their premiums by about 41 percent. They will also pay only 14 percent of their premiums the first year, down from 18 percent this year. They will have to pay up to $1,000 a year for non-preventative medical care, or $2,000 for a two-person or family plan. The school board will pay the other half of the deductible, and teachers could keep that money if they didn’t use it during the year.

“By agreeing to the new health care plans, they allow us to fund the raises. As we know, money is very tight. We have to minimize the taxpayer burden as much as we can,” said David Heller, chair of the Board of Education.

According to Heller, if the teachers had kept their regular preferred provider organization plan, the school board would have seen a yearly increase of 20 to 25 percent. With the high deductible plan, the increase will be closer to 8 percent.

Mayor Robert Mezzo, who serves on the school board, said the effort to decrease the school system’s insurance expenses was consistent with the strategy used in recent municipal negotiations.

“I commend the job that the negotiating team has done on it,” Mezzo said.

The borough board voted down a proposed teacher’s contract almost three years ago, sending it to two rounds of state arbitration. Arbiters both times ruled in favor of the teachers, who received 8 percent raises over three years.

The negotiations between school board and teacher representatives were not contentious, said Marenghi, who has participated in contract talks three times previously.

“It’s probably the most respectful dialogue we’ve had out of any of them,” Marenghi said.

In addition to the changes in health care and salary increases, the teacher’s union agreed to switch to block scheduling at Naugatuck High School in the 2013-14 school year. The change, which would create four class periods per day instead of the eight currently scheduled, would add a few minutes to the day, according to Heller.

Block scheduling would allow for longer class times, which would be particularly advantageous for science classes, where students would have time to do longer experiments, according to Tindall-Gibson.

Laraine Weschler contributed to this article.