Contract talks between Hampshire Regional School Committee, union heading to mediation

  • Warren Smith stands with other Hampshire Regional teachers and staff advocating for a fair contract during the rain Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/4/2023 7:47:22 AM
Modified: 10/4/2023 7:46:22 AM

WESTHAMPTON — The Hampshire Regional School Committee insisted Monday night that they value teachers and other union members with whom they are locked in a contract dispute that has dragged for months.

However, the committee said that if they agree to the Hampshire Regional Education Association’s latest proposal, the district would be forced into several painful decisions.

“School Committee values and supports our employees,” School Committee member Margaret Larson said at the meeting. “The HREA’s current proposals would result, over the course of three years, in layoffs, possibly program reductions, and the need for overrides by one or more of the five member towns, which historically has been a difficult ask.”

Around 50 teachers, parents, students and community members showed up at Monday night’s School Committee meeting to express their continued frustrations with low pay, morale issues, and fears about teachers leaving the district.

Tom Smith, a physics and astronomy teacher at Hampshire Regional High School, said that he is “actively looking for another job” with a higher salary.

“I used to love this school. I don’t anymore,” Smith said. “The offers and the message that I’m getting is that my efforts, my expertise are not appreciated.”

Another teacher, Casey  Moriarty, who has been teaching history at the high school for two years, said that while she dreams of staying at Hampshire Regional until retirement, low pay relative to other districts makes her “question [her] financial decision.”

“I am a highly marketable teacher,” Moriarty said. “I am asking that you all consider the skill you may lose if you don’t value the teachers who put their hearts and souls into this building.”

At a bargaining session on Monday before the meeting, School Committee representatives gave their “best offer” with annual raises of 2%, 2% and 2.5% over the three-year contract. That offer is up from the previous 1.75%, 2% and 2%, and the original offer of 1%, 1% and 2%.

Meanwhile, the HREA — the 109-member union representing teachers, paraprofessionals and administrative assistants — lowered their ask to 3.5%, 3.5% and 3.5% raises over the next three years for teachers, with additional step modifications at the top two steps for the most experienced teachers in the district.

At the bargaining session — after months of negotiations, teacher rallies and work-to-rule procedures — the School Committee and the union agreed to file for contract mediation with the Department of Labor Relations.

The two parties have been negotiating a contract since February. The previous contract ended on Aug. 31, and with no agreement yet reached, Hampshire Regional educators are currently working without one.

The School Committee has filed for mediation twice during the bargaining process, which the union formally refused, and the Department of Labor Relations instructed that the parties go back to the bargaining process. This will be the third request for mediation.

Throughout negotiations, the union said, the School Committee has shown an “unwillingness to truly engage in salary negotiations.”

Union Co-Vice President Michael Braidman said last week that there were instances when the School Committee did not come prepared to meetings, and that the committee filed for mediation “long before we felt that we had reached any kind of an impasse.”

At Monday’s meeting, Larson said of the School Committee, “We have come prepared and ready to negotiate and listen. In fact, we were ready to negotiate throughout July and August but were informed that HREA was unavailable to meet.”

The union agreed on Monday to file for mediation, according to union Co-President Greg Reynolds, because the School Committee had given what its members called their “best offer.”

“We’re insulted by the current wage offer. We ask that you consider the long-term effect to underpin educators for decades,” Reynolds said.

According to data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education updated in June, the average salary at Hampshire Regional is $74,105, which is higher than Northampton and Easthampton, but lower than Amherst, South Hadley, Belchertown, Hadley and Southampton. The statewide average teaching salary is more than $10,000 higher at $86,118 per year.

Those numbers don’t reflect “step” differences in pay, which are determined by the years of experience a teacher has.

“If I was working in Northampton, I’d be making $10,000 more this year. Next year I’d be making $13,000 more,” said Smith, the physics teacher searching for a new job. “It doesn’t make sense for me to stay.”

Meanwhile, school counselor Amy Scully — who has advanced degrees and is at the top step for years working for the district — will make $81,264 this year if employees get the 2% increase the School Committee is currently offering. If Scully were working in Northampton this year, she would be making $93,472, a difference of $12,208.

“Our union is fighting for higher wages so that we don’t lose our most experienced teachers to higher-paying districts and so that when we have teachers retire or leave, we can find new staff that will want to join our school,” Scully said. “If we do not have competitive pay, we will not be able to attract the talent that we want.”

In August, the district lost two faculty members to neighboring districts. Another teacher left for the private sector, and one other teacher retired, according to high school Principal Lauren Hotz.

Two of those positions have been filled; one math teacher position is still unfilled; and a speech-language pathologist position is contracted with an agency.

“Morale is at an all-time low,” Reynolds said. “I know students don’t always see it because we have to smile.”

Despite their differences, Larson said the “School Committee continues to support our excellent current programming to retain students and attract choice students.”

Thomas Cleary, chair of the regional committee, declined further comment after the meeting, citing School Committee policy around ongoing contract negotiations.

Students at the meeting praised Hampshire Regional teachers for the quality of education and care that they give their students.

“Teachers here have personally helped me and others so much,” said recent high school graduate Brian Fried. “Without these teachers, I would not be who I am today.”

“This is about students and proper education,” said a current student, Georgiana Frezier. “This is about teachers getting basic respect. This is about our values as a community, upholding our quality of education, and upholding a community that is loving and caring.”

Maddie Fabian can be reached at


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy