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Teachers Refuse Wage Freeze, Double-Digit Layoffs Expected

Union Blames Town's Inaction On Health Care Costs

The teachers union refused a wage freeze Monday, which will force the board of education to lay off 15 to 20 people, Superintendent Jerome Belair said.

A wage freeze would have saved the town $900,000 in salary, according to Assistant Superintendent Craig Powers. The board of education passed a $42.99 million budget in January that assumed the teachers, along with the other six unions, would accept a wage freeze.

The administrators union agreed to the wage freeze in February, saving the town $35,000. The other four unions are likely to follow the teachers and refuse the wage freeze, according to a variety of sources.

The total cost of the salary increases of the five unions would be $1.2 million, Belair said. To make up that number, up to 20 positions would have to go, he said.

The board of education will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, March 15. There, the new proposal will be made, Belair said.

Class sizes will be larger and fewer programs will be offered, Belair said. More costs could be shifted to parents, such as paying for half of students’ advanced placement tests or for them to participate in school athletics, he said.

The average teacher is set to receive a 4.3 percent increase, including step increases, according to budget documents. After meeting with union leaders Feb. 28, Belair proposed to cut the raise to 2.15 percent to all employees and remove the step increase. The union voted to not vote on that concession as well.

Union’s Side

The union issued a press release Tuesday evening, and Patch interviewed Union President Martha Shoemaker as well. In both, they said the district’s inability to act on rising health care costs led to the vote.

Health care costs rose $1.6 million from last year, a 26.61 percent increase, according to budget documents. Almost nothing has been done to fix that problem, Shoemaker said.

Meanwhile, the percentage teachers have spent on their own health care has increased to 18 percent this year, the highest of any town employees, according to the press release and First Selectman Dan Steward.

Last year, the teachers agreed to two furlough days, which saved the town $263,750, according to the press release. Part of that concession was that the district would look into fixing the spiraling health care costs, Shoemaker said.

“This problem is not going away,” she said. “We as teachers can’t fix it. The town administrators need to fix it.”

Then-Superintendent Randall Collins agreed to create a committee to look into the issue, with union representation on the committee, the press release said. The committee, comprising some board of education members, Finance Director Rudy Beers and School Business Manager Michael Deray, has met twice since last March. No union representatives were allowed on the committee, the release said.

“The (teachers union’s) members feel that this issue will be revisited year after year until the true problem is addressed and any sacrifices on the part of the union would be another temporary Band-Aid,” the release said.

An email Collins sent to the union last year said its representatives would be able to meet with Beers to look into the costs of health care insurance to “bring about a better understanding.” That meeting never happened, the press release alleged.

Shoemaker, along with the heads of all other district and town unions, is meeting today at 4:30 p.m. at the Waterford Library with Steward, Belair and other officials to discuss the issue. Answers can still be found to avoid layoffs, she said.“We are always open to listen,” Shoemaker said. 

Administrator’s Take

Great Neck Elementary Principal and Administrators Union President Pat Fedor did not comment on the teachers’ decision to refuse the wage freeze.

Despite the likelihood that the other five unions will refuse the wage freeze, the administrators are still comfortable with their decision to accept the wage freeze, she said.

“We are very comfortable with the decision we made,” Fedor said. “We still absolutely think it was the right thing to do.”

Reaction From The Board of Education

Board of Education Chairman Don Blevins also refused to comment on the teachers’ decision, calling it their decision. The big issue now would be finding out where to cut, he said.

Next Tuesday, the board will have to decide to cut programs or to cut across the board and increase class sizes. Blevins said he would prefer to cut across the board and keep programs, because once a program leaves it is hard to get back.

Belair has asked if the board would be willing to let parents pay for more extracurricular activities. Although saying “everything is on the table,” Blevins said he would strongly resist that.

“I’ll go back to the old cliché that public education is the public’s responsibility,” he said.   

 

Full Press Release From The Teachers Union Defending The Decision

The Waterford Federation of Classroom Teachers voted not to vote on the wage freeze/concessions presented to them within the last month.  Teachers met on Monday, February 28th and held a vote on March 7th in all schools.  The Board of Education originally proposed a wage freeze for the 2011-12 school year.  WFCT leaders met with the administration and presented a list of possible cost saving measures for the 2011/12 budget.  Last week, Jerry Belair proposed another wage concession that instituted a 2.15% wage increase on the current 2010-11 contract, with no step movement.  This proposal also provided that the union would pay the contracted increase of 18% in overall health care costs with no extension of the contract. 

The Federation has been told that the current budget is a result of increased health insurance claims.  Over the last fourteen months the WFCT has asked for information on the current status of the Health Care Reserve Account established in 2003 by town administrators. The only answer we have received thus far is that it is gone. 

Last year, the Federation voted to take two furlough days in a good faith effort to stem mounting costs associated with health insurance.  Individual teacher contributions ranged up to $975.  This brought about $263,750 in savings to the current town budget.  Teachers’ Insurance percentages increased from 16% to 17% in 2010-11 and will increase to 18% in the upcoming fiscal year.  Insurance costs have risen throughout the contract.  Monthly installments for teachers have risen from $272.14 (09/10) to 427.93(11/12) for family coverage.  As a result of last year’s wage concessions, the WFCT was told the town would investigate the systemic problems of its current self-insurance policy.  In an email dated 2/3/2010, the union members were assured that the WFCT would be part of this investigation.  The WFCT understands that a small committee of Board of Education members have met twice, since last March, with the insurance representative for Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the school business manager, Michael Deray; and the town’s director of finance, Ruth Beers.  In August of 2010, WFCT union leaders further asked the Board of Education to consider allowing all union presidents under the BOE to attend these meetings so that the information provided by the insurance representative would be heard by all.  Union leaders were not asked to participate. The WFCT feels it is crucial that the town addresses the health care system that has created this financial burden. The WFCT members feel that this issue will be revisited year after year until the true problem is addressed and any sacrifices on the part of the union would be another temporary band-aid.

Waterford Rez March 11, 2011 at 05:03 PM
Mark, There are few pros and many cons to that idea. Many people are in the system in which they want to comment about. Many have good info to share to. They would certainly be intimidated and most likely not comment if they had to reveal their ID. Also, what it the purpose of a discussion board such as this? Share ideas, thoughts, info and concerns or reveal people IDs? Leave it the way it is. Will there be people who "engage in civil discourse"? Yes, so what. This is America, not Iran, we have that right. Many famous columnists and authors use pseudonyms to protect their ID and privacy; Mark Twain's real name was Samuel Clemens. If your goal is to force people to lie about there ID or shut down free speech, then by all means force them to revile their identity. If you are willing to filter through some civil discourse but keep the the concept of openness, then leave it the way it is.
mark v. foster March 11, 2011 at 06:28 PM
To Waterford Rez: A few clarifications follow. 1. You misunderstand "Civil discourse". It's what we hope for. Here is wikipedia on the topic: "Civil discourse is engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding.[1] Kenneth J. Gergen describes civil discourse as "the language of dispassionate objectivity", and suggests that it requires respect of the other participants, such as the reader. It neither diminishes the other's moral worth, nor questions their good judgment; it avoids hostility, direct antagonism, or excessive persuasion; it requires modesty and an appreciation for the other participant's experiences." We need more of this not less. 2. You're right: this is NOT Iran. We can speak our minds and not fear Ahmadinejad's thugs at our door. If we stick to the truth and speak politely, we are supposed to be able to speak freely in America. Even when we see the truth differently, we can discuss the difference politely. 3. I'm in the system too. It doesn't matter what you have to say; just speak your mind courteously. I begin to suspect that you have the whole freedom of speech concept upside-down. 4. Samuel Clemens / Mark Twain was the wrong example. He didn't hide behind Mark Twain, he was publicly known that way. He once or twice wrote articles under the name Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass to hide his identity. (I'm a huge Twain fan.) 5. "REVILE their identity"? That's quite a Freudian slip.
Waterford Rez March 11, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Mark, here's my point. You may think that it's very acceptable to force someone to reveal their identity. Not everybody agrees. You post your name, that's great. Some people don't, so what? There are many reasons not to. You're free to post your name, I'm free not to. I respect you for posting it; I'm only asking you respect others who don't. The world isn't perfect; there are mean, vindictive coworkers, bosses and friends. In the words of Metallica- Sad but true. I appreciate your opinion and thank you for sharing it. Finally, there is just the simple logistics of it. How would you possibly verify someone's name within reasonable limits? The very same people who would probably not participate in civil discourse (proper use?) will be the very same people that will falsely misrepresent themselves, so in the end nothing will be accomplished except for a less open environment.
Dave March 11, 2011 at 07:35 PM
Mark Foster - Yes Mr Belair didn't create this problem, yes he is in a no win position. However if he is any kind of leader he should lead by example and NOT spend $8000 on furniture! Ultimately it will be the kids who will feel the results of budget cuts and no one else.
mark v. foster March 11, 2011 at 08:42 PM
After weighing the pros and cons, I think I agree with you. I only ask that people re-read their submission and PRETEND it was going online over their signature. Maybe that will help people to be more polite. I thank you for sharing your opinion too.

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