Easthampton teachers ratify one-year contract with school department
EASTHAMPTON — After working for seven months without a contract, city teachers have inked a one-year agreement with the school department that calls for retroactive pay increases of 1.5 percent.
The pact, which was ratified last week by approximately 200 teachers, paraprofessionals and secretaries represented by the Easthampton Education Association expires June 30. This marks the second year in a row that Easthampton teachers have signed a one-year contract.
The new agreement calls for a 1 percent pay increase retroactive to June 30, 2012, when the previous contract expired, and a 0.5 percent increase retroactive to January, according to school and union officials.
Meredith Balise, president of the education association, said members in three of the union’s four bargaining units voted for the agreement “almost unanimously” Feb. 13. Custodians are slated to vote on the contract sometime after schools reopen next week following winter break.
Balise said the major sticking point in negotiations was pay increases, which union members had hoped would be higher than 1.5 percent. Teacher salaries in Easthampton range from around $40,000 to $68,000, she said.
“We’ve had a budget deficit for the last few years and we’re being asked to do more and more with less and less,” said Balise, who is a health teacher at White Brook Middle School. “There’s some relief we’ve signed, but knowing what’s ahead of us, there’s not as much of a celebration as we would have liked.”
Superintendent Nancy Follansbee said 1.5 percent represents the amount the School Committee authorized this year for teacher salary increases. She said school leaders are hoping the next round of negotiations, which will likely begin after the city’s new high school building opens in April, will result in a longer-term contract with school employees.
Balise said association members are anticipating that health care coverage will be an issue in the next contract.
City Council recently rejected a proposal by Mayor Michael A. Tautznik to adopt a state law allowing municipalities to update or change employee health insurance coverage within a 30-day negotiating window, rather than having to seek prior approval from employee unions.
Tautznik has said the move would allow the city needed flexibility if the costs of the existing plan were to rise.