The School Boards that represent the six Districts within the AddisonNortheast Supervisory Union have been negotiating for the last year with the Teachers Union for a contract that will cover this school year (2010/2011). While there are a few unresolved issues concerning, the Boards believe there are three very large issues that are keeping us from reaching a settlement.
• AUTOMATIC SALARY INCREASES
As in virtually all school districts within the state, our teachers are paid based on a salary schedule. The schedule sets salaries based on a teacher's years of experience and level of education. A teacher's years of experience are recognized by what are called "step" increases. A teacher moves one step on the schedule for each year of experience until he/she reaches the top of the schedule. On our schedule, these step increases are $1,606 and currently cost the Districts an average 2.5% of total salaries. This structure is typical of teacher contracts throughout the state.
The problem is, the Boards are required to pay these step increases "automatically," even when a settlement has not been reached for a new contract. In other words, the Districts have to pay these increases even after the old Union contract has expired. We have to pay these automatic increases even if the Boards believe the amount is too high given the current economy and available revenues. Therefore, teachers have been receiving these increases since the start of this school year, even though we have not reached a settlement over a new contract.
The Boards have proposed contract language that would make these step increases part of negotiations, rather than having them paid automatically. Quite simply, the Boards believe that it is unfair for the taxpayers to have to pay salary increases without giving the Boards the opportunity to negotiate over those increases.
Of course, the Union is insisting that teachers be able to continue receiving these annual increases automatically. This way, the Union can simply drag out the bargaining process into the next school year and guarantee that the teachers will get salary increases - automatically - even though the Boards have not agreed to them.
If we do not change the contract, the Districts will face the prospect of paying automatic step increases at the end of every contract. The Boards believe all salary increases should be negotiated for each year. If not, the Boards will never be able to adjust their budgets to meet the needs of the taxpayers.
Because of the current requirement to pay step increases automatically, the Boards have been paying these increases since the beginning of the school year. In a last ditch effort to reach a settlement, the Boards proposed that these increases be continued as for the entire school year. This will provide the vast majority of our teachers with increases ranging from 2.25% to 4.5%, depending on their years of experience and level of education. The average increase is 2.5%.
About 25 of our 187 teachers are not receiving an increase this year, because they have reached the top of the salary schedule. The maximum teacher salary is $72,625. Most of these teachers could earn additional salary increases by taking more college courses, which are paid for by the Districts.
The Union is insisting that every teacher receive a 2.9% salary increase for this school year. The Boards just do not believe such an increase is appropriate given the effect the economy is having on our taxpayers and the deficits in the State's education funding.
The union employees for the State of Vermont recognized these realities when they accepted a 3% pay cut for this year and a pay freeze for next year. Our own school administrators have done their part by accepting salary freezes both this year and last year. In light of these facts, the Boards believe an average increase of 2.5% for the teachers is very fair.
• HEALTH INSURANCE
All school boards in Vermont have been asked by state officials to increase teacher contributions toward health insurance premiums to 20%. Most taxpayers in the state pay about 20% for their insurance. In fact, even the union employees for the State of Vermont have been paying 20% for their insurance for over 20 years.
Currently, our teachers contribute only 10% toward their insurance premium costs. This amounts to $1,722 per year for family coverage (or $66.23 per paycheck) and only $654 per year for the teacher's own coverage.
The Boards had proposed that teachers increase their contribution to 20%. However, in a final effort to reach a settlement, the Boards offered to compromise and are now asking that teachers contribute only 15% toward their current insurance plan.
Depending on whether the teacher has single or family coverage, this will increase teacher costs by between $326 and $862 per year (or between $12.55 and $33.15 per paycheck). Please keep in mind that the vast majority of our teachers are receiving salary increases of $1,606 this year. This increase would not begin until February 1, 2011, so teachers would be paying the increased amount for five months of this school year.
The Union does not want to accept any increase in the teacher contribution percentage.
The paraprofessionals in our districts pay far more for their health insurance, while earning much lower salaries. Most of them pay 23% of their premium cost and some pay 30% or more. We think it is reasonable to ask our teachers to pay 15%.
The Boards believe that they have compromised significantly. We have presented a fair and final offer to the Union. It is our sincere hope that the teachers will also recognize that, in these economic times, this is a reasonable offer.