Explaining the teachers’ contract

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By the Colchester School Board

To ensure a prosperous future for the Town of Colchester, we must work to prepare our young people for success. To this end, the Colchester School Board and the Colchester Education Association (CEA) — the Colchester teachers union — have worked to reach an agreement that will allow us to pay our teachers competitively, supporting our exceptional schools while balancing the cost to taxpayers.

The current contract between the Board and CEA expired on June 30, 2014. At its Sept. 2 meeting, the board voted on a new contract with the CEA that will run from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017. The contract was approved by a vote of 3-1 with one abstention.

The purpose of this update is to provide a summary of the contract and the rationale behind the board’s approval.

Several items were negotiated, with salary having the largest financial impact and receiving the most attention. All teachers will receive a base increase, while some will also receive increases based on experience (step). The table shows the base and step increases for each year of the three-year term:

School Year Base Step Total Average Increase
2014-2015 1.35% 1.80% 3.15%
2015-2016 1.67% 1.58% 3.25%
2016-2017 1.92% 1.43% 3.35%

 

Highlights of the settlement that will help control future budget increases include:

— 2014-2015 faculty salary expense will be within the approved budget.

— The starting teacher salary will increase 1.35% to $41,145 in 2015.

— Teachers no longer eligible for experience-related increase will receive lower pay increases in line with anticipated inflation rates. These annual pay increases will be 1.35% in 2015, 1.67% in 2016 and 1.92% in 2017

— The current median (half above, half below) teacher salary of $63,128 will increase an average of 1.65% per year over the next three years.

— The CEA agreed to a reduced number of sick days, potentially reducing the cost of substitute teachers and improving student learning.

It is anticipated that these increases will keep Colchester teacher salaries in the middle of the range for Chittenden County and also maintain the highest rate of medical insurance contributions by faculty of any school district in Vermont — 20 percent of the premium cost.

Both sides started far from where we ended up, and reaching an agreement was not easy. Meetings began in December 2013 and many of these negotiating sessions were opened to the public for the first time. Impasse was declared in April, which led to mediation in June. Mediation did not result in an agreement although both sides did move some during the process.

Fact-finding was scheduled for September. In this step, a jointly- selected third party provides a non-binding recommendation for settlement. This recommendation is based on a number of factors the fact finder believes are relevant, including: the current pay scale of the district compared to other districts in the region and percent increases negotiated by the other districts. After the fact finder’s report is issued, there is a mandatory 30-day “cooling off” period before any further negotiations take place or a contract is imposed by the board.

The benefits of fact-finding include an independent assessment and public recommendation. The costs of fact finding to the district are estimated at $7,500 to $10,000, plus staff time and many additional weeks before a settlement is reached.

Based on settlements and fact-finding reports from other Vermont districts, the board negotiating team believed there was a strong possibility the fact-finder would recommend a settlement with higher increases than those we have negotiated. Both Burlington and Milton recently agreed to three-year contracts with annual increases of 4 percent or higher. A fact-finder in South Burlington recommended a two-year contract with increases of 3 percent and 3.25 percent, for a district whose salaries are already significantly higher than Colchester’s.

Given this, a majority of the board wanted to reach a settlement prior to fact-finding if we could arrive at increases below what a fact-finder might recommend. Both sides agreed to come back to the table; those discussions led to the final agreement.

The majority of the board believes we’ve reached an agreement with the CEA that supports high quality educational opportunities while working to control costs and also believes this contract is the best balance between the competing goals of the cost to taxpayers and the education of students.

This agreement will keep Colchester teachers near or just below the middle of the compensation range for teachers in Chittenden County. To maintain our exceptional schools, we have to balance controlling costs with paying our teachers competitively. To not do so will result in the best teachers seeking opportunities elsewhere. In the first few years, the impact of below average pay would likely be small as openings in other districts will not happen immediately, but in the long run would lead to a degradation of the quality of education in Colchester.

Colchester schools consistently deliver learning outcomes above the state average at a cost below the state average per student. This accomplishment is possible thanks to the hard work and diligence of everyone in our community — taxpayers, families, teachers, administrators, staff and students.

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The Colchester School Board consists of Mike Rogers, chairman; Christine Shepard, vice chairwoman; Lincoln White, clerk; Craig Kieny; and Lindsey Cox.