Region 16 BOE wins contract arbitration

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PROSPECT — Three months after the Region 16 Teachers’ Association rejected a mediated, three-year contract with the Board of Education, an arbitration panel has upheld the agreement.

The district’s interim business manager, Hugh Potter, said Region 16 learned of the arbitrator’s decision late Monday morning.

The contract features a general wage freeze in year one, 2010-11, and 2.99 percent wage increases in each of the next two years. Step increases, raises based on experience, are frozen throughout the three-year life of the contract.

Additionally, teachers will pay an extra 1 percent of their medical insurance premiums in each of years two and three. Their current, 16.5 percent contributions will climb to 17.5 percent in 2011-12 and to 18.5 percent in 2012-13.

The contract amounts to a 4.05 percent net increase to taxpayers. The current teachers’ contract expires Aug. 14; the new one will run Aug. 15, 2010-Aug. 14, 2013.

By the end of the contract, the entry-level salary of a teacher holding a bachelor’s degree, with no experience, will be $44,840. At the top of the pay scale, the salary of a teacher holding a sixth-year degree, with 45 years of experience, will be $88,600.

The arbitration panel was chaired by Gerald T. Weiner and also included board nominee John Romanow and union nominee Jeffrey Rosenberg. Attorney William R. Connon argued for the board, while Raymond W. Rossomondo, of the Connecticut Education Association, represented the union.

The Board of Education and Teachers’ Association agreed on the general salary and step freezes for the first year of the contract but were in dispute about the terms of years two and three. The union’s last best offer included mid-year step increases in 2011-12 and 2012-13 and a 3.57 percent general wage increase in the latter.

At a March 7 hearing, each side presented its case to the panel. Based on the panel’s written opinion, much of the proceeding centered on the economy and what its effect on the contract ought to be.

“It is undisputed by the parties that since December 2007, the start of the recession, the national, state and local economies have worsened from prior years,” the panel’s opinion reads. “The association, in its brief, does not contest the depth of the recession that began in December 2007, nor does it contest the lingering effects of higher unemployment rates that affected the state. The association argues, however, that the worst is behind us, while the board argues the effects of the recession will be felt for years to come.”

December 2009 unemployment figures, which were used in the panel’s deliberation, were 8.8 percent for Beacon Falls and 8.1 percent for Prospect.

The panel also considered the entirety of the contract negotiation process, which began Oct. 7, 2009. During an 11-hour mediation session that lasted until 4 a.m. Dec. 9, the board and union agreed to general contract terms then appeared to solidify remaining details Jan. 6.

But 10 minutes before the Board of Education was to vote on the mediated contract at a Jan. 21 meeting, Teachers’ Association President Stephen Jerram, a fifth-grade teacher at Community School, told Superintendent of Schools Jim Agostine the union’s members had rejected the agreement.

The school board voted, 5-1, to approve the contract that night, and the arbitration panel  was to settle the dispute.

Agostine was out of the office Monday. An e-mail to Jerram was not returned.