RTM Approves Teachers' Contract

District Leaders Make Persuasive Argument As Contract Becomes Official

Going into Monday’s meeting, several Representative Town Meeting members said they were “guns blazing, ready to shoot this .” But after a 35-minute presentation by Superintendent Jerome Belair, Board of Education Chairman Donald Blevins and School Buisness Manager Ron Melnik, those minds were changed.

“This was the single best presentation of a contract I’ve seen in Waterford in the time I’ve been here,” said RTM member John Foley, who has been critical of other union contracts in the past. “I came in ready to shoot this down, and I’m ready to turn the plane around.”

The RTM passed a new three-year contract with the teachers union, with salary increases averaging 1.92 percent per year and cuts to the teacher's health insurance, by an 15 to 1 vote. The only member to vote against the contract was Republican Richard Muckle. The deal will take effect on July 1, 2012.

The Presentation

Belair, Blevins and Melnik went into detail about how the contract was settled, using statistics and examples from other districts. The key issues were to get rid of long-term retirement benefits, and address skyrocketing health insurance costs, Belair said.

“We realized our number one priority in this negotiation was health insurance costs,” he said. “Our goal was to take the big-picture approach in this contract.”

Waterford teachers will pay 18 percent, 18.5 percent and 19 percent of their health care costs over the three years of the contract, much higher than any other town union and the highest in southeastern Connecticut for teachers, Belair said. Co-pays were increased from $20 to eventually $30 by the end of the contract, much higher than all other town employees, according to district documents.

There were also cuts to retirement benefits to new employees, such as eliminating sick leave buyouts and retirement health insurance coverage for employees hired after July 1, according to the contract. Language was changed to allow the town to go out to bid to get a new insurance company, Belair said.

Belair said the 1.75 percent raise in the first year in the contract was higher than other districts. But overall for the length of the contract, the salary increases are less than the state average, he said.

More importantly, when other districts got a zero percent salary increase for teachers in the first year, there were no health care cuts in that year, Belair said. By allowing a small increase, it allowed the District to get cuts in the teacher's health insurance plan, he said.

Overall, the new contract will cost taxpayers $130,321 more in 2012-13, $170,531 more in 2013-14 and $138,918 more in 2014-15, according to District documents. Teachers with at least a bachelor’s degree and 30 hours toward their masters degree at the highest step (77 percent of all Waterford teachers) will receive a $415 pay raise, increasing their pay from $85,072 to $85,487, according to budget documents and Melnik.

RTM's Take

Several RTM members said they went into the meeting planning to vote against the contract, but decided to vote for it. And while many were pleased with the work of the administration, there were still things they would like to see changed.

RTM members Andrea Kanfer and Rodney Pinkham both argued that salary increases should not be guaranteed just for longevity. Instead, it should be performance-based, they said.

“Some of those step progressions from one year to the next are nice increases,” Pinkham said. “I’ve never seen increases like that without a pretty solid performance.”

Overall though, the group agreed the contract was “a good step forward,” as RTM member Michael Hannan said. But again, it might be just the beginning to get public sector employees to feel private sector pain, Foley said.

“In looking at the benefits, the teachers are paying more, and we need to respect that, and we certainly do,” he said. “But it seems to me that they are now paying what the real world has been paying for a long period of time.”

Union Response

"We are relieved," teachers union President Martha Shoemaker said after the meeting. "It is a good contract for the times."

BJ November 15, 2011 at 08:41 PM
"Do you think it is a fair contract?" Fair to whom? $85,000 for for working part time AND only 180 days a year (in $200 million schools, with ridiculously small class sizes), obviously the teachers have a killer deal (oh but wait, they still complain about it not being enough). And on the other side, the taxpayers get schools that rank in the 60th percentile compared to the rest of the world. Fair?
Valerie November 16, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Seeing as all teachers do is babysit, let's pay them accordingly. What's the going rate for a babysitter? $5 per hour? So let's say $5 per hour for 7 hours a day (no getting paid for a 20 minute lunch here!!) is $35 per day. Multiply that $35 per day by 20 children in a class (ridiculously small class sizes indeed) is $700 a day. $700 a day times the 180 days a teacher works (no getting paid for those silly "professional development" days) is $126,000. It seems to be you've struck quite a deal with the educators in Waterford.
BJ November 17, 2011 at 12:40 AM
V: I love your "logic" here; you seem like someone I would have a lot of fun debating this subject with. Determining “value” in a vocation can be difficult and contentious, but my point here is that a teacher does not go into the job thinking they will get paid one thing, and discovering they actually get paid something else. Teachers should go into teaching because that is what they love to do. The fact that it pays very well, has outstanding benefits, and offers unbelievably fantastic benefits is icing on the cake. Sounds like utopia, but wait, they want MORE. Give them that and they want MORE. The fact that they form unions says that the job is NOT “about the kids” but about making MONEY! I find that sad, and an INSULT to the teachers who would (and many do) it for free. Add the fact that internationally, our schools are failing and I have to ask why, as American taxpayers, we do not revolt against this? I know we all have to earn a living, but if a teacher’s salary is not enough (not sure how that is possible), then choose something else. Let’s hire teachers who are NOT distracted by anything other than doing the best job that can be do.


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