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Teachers, BOE, WEA Come to Contract Agreement

Isaac Stein ’12
Staff Writer

Following a unanimous vote by the Westport Board of Education on Nov. 2, a revised version of Westport teachers’ contract was approved before negotiations between the Board of Education (BOE) and the Westport Education Association (WEA) entered the arbitration phase.

The WEA, which is the teacherSocial Studies teacher Jeanne Stevens casts a vote for the new teacher contract. |Photo by Eric Essagof '12s’ union for the Westport School district, previously voted on and approved the revised contract.

The new contract will be in effect from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2013.

The disputed issues in the new contract focus on the wages and insurance costs for Westport teachers.

According to the settled contract, teachers’ wages are subject to whether the contract has been in effect for their first, second or third year.

In the first year, the contract involves a general wage increase (GWI) set at 2 percent for all teachers and no step movement.

In the second year, there will not be a GWI increase, but rather a step increase for all teachers. The teachers at the top step will receive a 1.79 percent salary increase.

The step increase for the second year, which only applies to 18 percent of Westport’s teachers, is 1.79 percent. There is no increase in salary for the other 82 percent of teachers.

In the third year, there will be both a step increase, a small GWI for teachers not at the top step and a 2.03 percent GWI for teachers at the top step.

Teachers’  salaries alone constitute about 70 percent of the total education budget, which has been increased by 1.1 percent since last year’s as a result of the new contract.

In addition to the wage settlement, the other major issue in the contract is the health insurance costs of Westport teachers.

Currently, teachers pay 15 percent of their health insurance premiums, while the town of Westport pays the other 85 percent.

Over the course of the new contract, the portion of costs that teachers pay increases to 16, 17 and 18 percent for each respective year.

In addition to an increase in health insurance costs, teachers will pay more for generic drugs and co-pays at medical visits.

Had the BOE and WEA not been able to reach agreement over the contract, arbitration would have been necessary.

Arbitration is a meeting in which three officers – one who acts in the interest of the BOE, one of the WEA and one who is strictly neutral – settle any disputes in the negotiations.

Many of the board members expressed concern over what would have happened if arbitration had been necessary.

Elliott Landon, superintendent of schools for the Westport district, believed reaching negotiation was a victory for all sides.

“Had the [negotiations] gone into arbitration, [the BOE] would not be serving the taxpayers, the town, and most of all the kids,” Landon said.

Landon stated that Westport has the fourth lowest property tax rate in Connecticut coupled with a very high per capita income and that because arbitrators use a town’s ability to pay as a benchmark for decisions, arbitration could be a threat to relatively low tax rates.

Additionally, Landon stressed that if failed negotiation made arbitration necessary, the Westport RTM would be rendered powerless to approve the revised contract – stripping power from local government.

In response to the outcome of the negotiations, Board chairman Donald O’Day had similar sentiments to Landon, but was more specific about the contracts’  impact on the district’s teachers.

“I’m glad we didn’t enter arbitration, because we didn’t want a settlement that made Westport an unattractive place to work,” O’Day said. “It’s the Board’s responsibility to draft a settlement that creates an environment where everyone wants to go to work.”

James Marpe, vice chairman of the Board, responded to claims from citizens and other officials that in light of the recent economic events and a downturn in the private sector, a 0 percent salary increase in the new contracts would be in the best interest of the town.

“Besides making Westport a bad environment for prospective teachers, freezing pay would make Westport an outlier,” Marpe said. “[The Board] takes into consideration the actions of neighboring districts in all of its decisions.”

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