Committee ratifies 2-year teacher agreement
Following a yearlong extension of the prior Warwick Teachers Union (WTU) contract, which expired last Friday, the School Committee approved a two-year agreement, which runs from Sept. 1, 2012 through Aug. 31, 2014, during a special meeting Tuesday night. The vote was 4-1, with Eugene Nadeau voting against.
When the prior three-year contract ran out on Aug. 31, 2011, the WTU agreed to a yearlong extension of that contract, with a change from paying $11 per week to a 20-percent co-share of premium for health and dental insurance for a $1.9 million savings and no wage increase.
The new agreement retains all terms and conditions of the 2009-2012 collective bargaining agreement with the following changes: an increase in wages only, including a 1 percent raise for the 2012-13 school year and a 1.5 percent raise for the 2013-14 year, with raises due on the first day of the school year; annual 20 percent co-share on health and dental insurance capped at this year’s 20 percent rates that all school employees are paying; reducing classroom weighting at the junior high level for special education students from 2 to 1.5, to be in line with current weighting levels at the elementary and high school levels; giving the superintendent the authority to notify teachers who have two consecutive years of unsatisfactory evaluations within the previous two years that they cannot attend the job fair; and continuing to use the R.I. Model Evaluation instrument, which was piloted last year.
Rosemary Healy, director of human services and legal counsel for the school committee, added, “For purposes of non-renewal, suspension, layoff or termination, the old [evaluation] instrument must also be used.”
Healy said the parties would attempt to negotiate Warwick’s own evaluation instrument for 2013-14 “consistent with Regents’ regulations and subject to ride approval, as necessary.”
“If such an agreement is agreed to and approved as necessary, it will replace the R.I. Model,” she said.
Superintendent Peter Horoschak is relieved to have a contract resolved. He said yesterday that one of the district’s top concerns was the financial impact of the contract and that between the extension of the 20 percent health care co-pay and raises for this and next year, “we now know what we have to plan for.”
As the department planned for a 20 percent co-payment based on the contract extension reached a year ago, those savings were built into the current budget. Had the payment reverted to the $11-a-week co-payment of the prior contract, the department would have to come up with an additional $1,920,000.
But the current budget also does not account for any raises. The 1 percent raise the School Committee agreed to will cost an additional $859,000 this year. Next year, the second and final year of the contract, teachers will get a 1.5 percent pay increase, amounting to an additional $1.3 million.
Horoschak is confident the money will be there to pay teacher raises this year.
While the number could change because of encumbrances made in the last fiscal year, he said the department is headed to finishing the year with a surplus of about $1.6 million. This would be carried over into the current year.
Contract language dealing with the weighting of special education students could have an impact on future budgets, but not this year, Horoschak said. When arriving at classroom enrollments, students with an individual education plan (IEP) are counted as 1.5 at the elementary and high school level. At the junior high level, they are counted as two students. This weighting serves to reduce class sizes as the maximum under the contract is reached sooner. The result is that the department must create more classes, thereby hiring more teachers and teacher assistants.
Under the agreement, junior high school students with an IEP will also be counted as 1.5.
“I’m pleased to see it is consistent across the board for all levels,” Horoschak said.
Healy said the change in weighting could result in additional staff savings because it will achieve more efficient scheduling at the junior high level, but added it’s difficult to project an estimate until firmer enrollment and IEP numbers are gathered.
The agreement does not change the maximum number of layoffs, which is 20, but it does address teacher evaluations. The union has been vocal in questioning the evaluation system being modeled by the district as part of statewide changes being made with Race to the Top federal funding. The district could be put in the position of having state-directed changes in conflict with the contract. Horoschak said there is a provision for Warwick to adopt its own regulations with Rhode Island Department of Education and Board of Regents approval.
Overall, Horoschak said the agreement “starts our school year off in a very positive way.”
Not everyone was so enthusiastic. Eugene Nadeau said he wasn’t happy with the agreement and cast the lone vote against it.
“I’m not feeling well about this contract because I believe the union members are in control of the Warwick school system and I believe that’s unfair to the students, parents and taxpayers of Warwick,” he said. “In a sea of whales, we landed a minnow.”
Nadeau said he felt the school committee was “surrendering” to the WTU by only making what he saw as three changes to the WTU’s 54-page contract. He said he would have liked to see teacher seniority eliminated.
“How do you coincide an evaluation system with that,” he asked.
Before casting his vote, Nadeau reassured the teachers his position was not a personal vendetta against them.
“The teachers I’ve met know how much I appreciate what they do for our students and our school system, and this contract won’t stop that,” he said. “I believe we’ve been fair to teachers, administration and staff, but I believe our $157 million budget won’t be reduced by this contract, and that’s unfair.”
Nadeau, who has two grandchildren enrolled at John Brown Francis, asked what would happen to them when they graduate from Pilgrim in nine to 10 years.
“How can we look our graduates in the eye, knowing we’re in the process of mortgaging their future? It’s not fair to our children and grandchildren that look to us to not give them that kind of life,” he said. “My heart aches because I was not able to do enough when the opportunity was there to help students. It grieves me.”
Fellow committee member Christopher Friel said he could sympathize with Nadeau.
“I’m not ecstatic with this contract, but I feel it wasn’t a fair negotiation if you have one side leaving the negotiation feeling ecstatic,” he said. “I do believe this is fair. This is expenditure-neutral at worst, and at best we could save some money.”
Friel said there’s another benefit to the agreement.
“We have the benefit of a work force that is in action, participating in school operations, and even though you can’t put a dollar amount on that, it’s worthwhile to go forward with that,” he said. “I can leave here knowing in my heart this is a fair agreement and it’s in the best interest of the district.”
Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Maloney said the department wouldn’t be where it is now without the prior one-year agreement.
“Over the last few weeks, the [school committee] chair [Beth Furtado] and legal counsel worked hard with the teachers union to get this done. It’s a good thing for schools, students and teachers,” he said. “We don’t always see eye to eye, but I feel we met in the middle and this will help with budgets in the coming year, which will benefit students.”
Maloney said he never wants to have to cut programs for students.
“I’m hopeful this is a step in the right direction for everyone,” he said.
Reached yesterday before the membership had an opportunity to see the contract or vote on it, action that was taken at 3:30 p.m. at Toll Gate, Warwick Teachers Union President James Ginolfi said he believes the agreement is “fair and reasonable for all parties.” He went on to name those parties as the teachers, parents, students and the taxpayers.
“It’s a win for everyone,” he said.