School Committee Chairman John Portz and I made up the school committee negotiating team for this new 3-year contract. We would like to thank WEA President Deb King and the members of the union negotiating team for enabling an honest and thoughtful process. And, thank you to the Superintendent, Business Manager and HR Director for their invaluable participation.
As with any collective bargaining agreement, this one includes compromises by both parties, and in that context, I feel this contract has allowed us to tackle a number of important issues around school schedule, parental engagement, time on learning, and compensation.
Strong parental involvement is part of the foundation of any high quality educational system. Parent/teacher conferences, scheduled in the fall and the spring, are an important tool for family engagement and communication. Over the past few years, we have had four half days and one evening dedicated to parent/teacher conferences each fall and spring. With two working parents, having daytime parent/teacher conferences can be a challenge. Also, these eight half days over the course of the school year can erode time on learning for our students.
This new contract has increased the number of evening meetings from 3 to 5, which will allow the School Administration to make a scheduling adjustment that will benefit both parents and students. Instead of four half days and one evening for parent/teacher conferences, the Administration will have more flexibility to schedule fewer half days – as few as one or two – and two evenings each fall and spring. The changes will allow for more time on learning for our students, fewer half days, and maintain the same amount of professional development, which we feel is an important support for our teachers. This change will be reflected in the current school year.
In the past, the school start date has changed from year to year – ranging from the Tuesday after Labor Day to the Thursday after Labor Day, which leaves uncertainty for families. We have negotiated a change so that starting in the 2017/2018 academic year, the first day of school can always be scheduled on the Tuesday after Labor Day.
As we embarked on the financial portion of the negotiations, we were careful to balance our strong support for our teachers with the financial constraints that exist.
We have negotiated a cost of living adjustment over the next three years of 2.25 percent in the current academic year, 2 percent next year, and 2 percent in the following year. In addition, we have increased longevity payments, which support our more experienced teachers who most often do not benefit from step increases. And this contract caps the number of days eligible for sick leave buyback for all new teachers hired after July 1, 2016.
Other changes in the contract include a reduction in the number of teacher work days from 185 to 184, continuation of the current practice of granting the WEA president half-time release with substitute costs paid by the union, and the possibility of additional days for bereavement leave.
This contract is fair to our teachers, fair to the taxpayers, allows us to make additional programmatic investments in the coming years, increases time on learning for our students, and addresses a number of scheduling concerns from parents.
School Committee, Vice Chair