One-year settlement on table amid pay increase negotiations for Union 38

  • Whately Elementary School FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/27/2020 10:42:42 PM
Modified: 1/27/2020 10:42:25 PM

DEERFIELD — Negotiations between the Union 38 Teachers Association and the Union 38 school committees have been ongoing since November 2018, and it looks like they might have to pick up again next year.

The Teachers Association, representing the teachers of Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately elementary school and Conway Grammar School, and school committees have been locked in disagreement over wage scale increases and retirement benefits.

Following a state-run moderation process, a one-year settlement is now on the table, according to Union 38 Superintendent Darius Modestow, with the Teachers Association expected to deliberate and respond to the settlement this week.

The settlement, if accepted, is temporary and negotiations would have to resume to meet the goal of agreeing to a three-year contract next year.

“I think the school committees see there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Modestow said. “But this takes a lot of pressure off of both sides.”

The crux of the disagreement regards wage scale increases for the Union 38 pay scale, which is based on years of service. Teachers begin at “Step 3” on the pay scale, and move up a step for each year served until “Step 14.”

If teachers are coming from other districts, their prior work experience is included in the step system. However, the exception is “Step 20,” which teachers only reach after 20 years of working specifically in the Union 38 district. The step system does not include levels 15 through 19.

The Teachers Association has been pushing for a 2% wage scale increase for teachers on Steps 3 through 13 in their second year. The settlement on the table, however, offers a 1% wage scale increase for those teachers.

The Teachers Association and school committees have been in general agreement on the other wage scale increases — a 1% increase for Steps 3 through 13 and a 2% increase for Steps 14 and 20 on year one; a 2% increase for Steps 14 and 20 on year two; and a 2% increase for all teachers on year three.

But Modestow said that the increase in pay between the steps is 3.19%, so a 1 percent “wage scale increase” means teachers would be getting 4.19% more in actual pay.

“People say, ‘How dare you give a 1% increase,’ but it’s not really like that,” Modestow said.

An issue to come back to — and that is not addressed in the settlement — is the retirement benefit in which retired teachers are paid for their unused sick days. The school committees argue the maximum retirement benefit for unused sick days should be capped at $5,600, which is comparable to surrounding districts. Any current teacher would be “grandfathered” in and would not be affected by a change to the retirement benefit policy, Modestow said.

The Teachers Association rejects any change to the retirement benefit policy without compensation being added to account for the change.

According to Modestow, retirement benefits payouts for unused sick days in Union 38 has been exorbitant. In 2016, for example, such payouts went to four teachers at $31,985; $24,807; $16,129 and $13,705. A teacher is set to retire in 2020 and is scheduled to receive a payout of $32,988.

In a recent letter to the Greenfield Recorder, Julie Fallon, a second-grade teacher at Deerfield Elementary School, said the elementary school teachers have been treated unfairly.

“Because we teach the youngest students in the district, our role as teachers is a fluid one. … We are at once teachers, counselors, coaches, nurses, cheerleaders and serve as ‘daytime parents’ to our students,” she said.

Fallon argued the teachers are treated unfairly compared to teachers at Frontier Regional School, the regional high school, where teachers are “paid more, for teaching the same students, and have more generous benefits.”

She also pointed out a potential gender disparity, noting the elementary school staffs are predominantly female.

Modestow said the pay disparity has nothing to do with gender. While Modestow noted there are more males at Frontier compared to the elementary schools, the gender ratio at Frontier is still about two-to-one, females-to-males, and it is inaccurate to say the male teachers at Frontier are a “majority.”

Modestow said the two teachers associations have collectively bargained separately since 1954, which explains the pay differences. He also said women have been “running the ship” for years, with the teachers union president, the last two superintendents and the majority of staff all being women. 

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