By Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School Board and Newfound Area Teachers Association on Oct. 21 jointly announced the terms of the collective bargaining agreement the two sides had signed the previous day. The two-year agreement that had been ratified a week earlier contains cost increases of $305,620 the first year and $319,543 the second.
Final adoption of the plan will not take place until the school district's annual meeting next March, and it would become effective on July 1, 2015, continuing until June 30, 2017.
Teachers have been working without a contract since their previous, one-year agreement expired at the end of June. They will continue working under the terms of that contract until the new one takes effect, providing the agreement passes in March.
For the last four years, teachers have worked under single-year agreements, receiving two raises during that time. Voters in March rejected a three-year teacher contract that would have provided senority step increases plus two-percent cost-of-living increases in the first two years and step plus 2.5 percent in the third year, as well as a two-percent increase in co-curricular stipends, in exchange for significant changes in the district's authorized leave policy.
With Newfound's pay rate being lower than many area school districts, teacher retention has become a problem, along with staff dissatisfaction over changes the administration was making in order to adjust to declining student enrollment. In order to boost retention and become more competitive with other school districts, the new contract increases starting salaries from $34,370 to $35,401 and top salaries from $62,985 to $66,431.
Teachers agreed to eliminate a cost differential designed to reward those who took a less expensive health package, resulting in their premiums increasing by two percent. As a result, the school district will pick up 85 percent of the cost while the teachers will pay 15 percent. Teacher co-payments had doubled two years ago.
The new agreement also calls for teachers and administrators to create a committee to study health insurance coverage options in anticipation of the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act two years from now.
The agreement also changes the authorized leave policy, replacing the 19 days of leave for any purpose allowed under the old agreement with the possibility of 21 days, allotted as 12 sick days, three personal days, two professional days, and five bereavement days.
Like the earlier agreement that voters rejected, the new contract provides a two-percent co-curricular stipend increase which, with FICA and retirement figured in, adds $4,099 to the cost in the first year.
The salaries and benefits are estimated at $332,961 the first year and $355,158 in the second but, with the savings in health insurance — $31,440 in the first year and $35,615 in the second — along with the co-curricular stipend, the total cost of the two-year agreement is estimated at $625,163. Actual costs may vary, depending upon staff changes.
"We are excited to have worked so collaboratively with the teachers to develop an agreement that works to retain our teaching staff and provides salaries that are competitive with those in the region," said School Board Chair Ruby Hill.
Deirdre Conway, president of the teachers' union, said, "After a failed contract, the teachers worked diligently with the board to ensure that we stay competitive with teacher wages while remaining fiscally responsible to the taxpayers within our seven communities."
The Newfound Area School District comprises the towns of Alexandria, Bridgewater, Bristol, Danbury, Hebron, Groton, and New Hampton.
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