New contract boosts pay for Vineyard school secretaries

New contract boosts pay for Vineyard school secretaries

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The All-Island School Committee (AISC) voted last week to ratify a new three-year union contract for Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) secretaries. The three-year contract gives the secretaries no wage adjustment this year but a guarantee of future increases in years two and three and provides for modest salary hikes.

The new contract provides for an entry-level salary set at $33,305 in fiscal year 2013 and a top-step level set at $55,446. Full-time secretaries work 7-hour days, 35 hours a week when school is in session and 4-hour days for seven weeks in July and August.

“This is an agreement that we reached after going to mediation, having mediation with the secretaries’ representative from the MTA [Massachusetts Teachers Association], our attorney, and a mediator appointed by the state,” superintendent of schools James Weiss said at the committee’s January 20 meeting.

In separate votes taken among local and regional school committees, representatives voted unanimously in favor of the tentative agreement which the secretaries had ratified in December.

The end result

Under the terms of the new contract that will run through June 30, 2013, secretaries agreed to a zero percent wage adjustment in fiscal year 2011 (FY11), which began July 1 and ends June 30, 2011; a 2 percent increase in FY12; and a 2.75 percent increase in FY13. MVPS teachers agreed to similar percentage increases in wage adjustments in their new contract signed last September.

Cost of living indexes and trends in cost of living adjustments in Island towns for municipal employees figured into wage adjustment discussions in the contract negotiations, school business administrator Amy Tierney said.

Under the new contract’s 11-step salary schedule, annual salaries range from $31,779 for a new secretary hired in FY11 at step 1, to $32,414 in FY12, and $33,305 in FY13. The range for a secretary at the top step will go from $52,908 in FY11, to $53,971 in FY12, and $55,446 in FY13.

Since the new contract does not provide a step increase in FY11 for secretaries at the top step of the salary schedule as of July 1, 2010, they will receive a $500 one-time stipend.

The new contract also includes $250 increases in longevity payments after working 10, 15, and 20 years, to $1,350, $1,550, and $1,950, respectively. A fourth payment of $2,250 will be added for completing 25 years.

Secretaries also will receive an increased buy-back rate of $25 per day, up from $15 a day, for up to 150 days of accumulated sick time when they retire after working at least 15 years.

As a concession, secretaries agreed to give up a more expensive Blue Cross Blue Shield Master Health Plus (indemnity) health insurance plan and go with the plan MVPS offers as a member of the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group, as of July 1, 2011. Their last contract offered incentives to leave the indemnity plan.

Mr. Weiss said a safety agreement included in the new contract was very important to the secretaries. The agreement states that when a school principal is away, even for a short time, he or she will always leave someone with decision-making authority, other than a school secretary, in charge of the building. The principal also will be responsible for the safety of the school facility and securing door locks and communications devices.

Hourly vs. salaried controversy

The collective bargaining agreement also included a side letter. It stipulates that a study committee will be formed to look at unresolved issues about how secretaries are paid and to make a recommendation, Mr. Weiss said.

As he explained, although secretaries technically are hourly workers, their accrual and use of benefit time is figured in the same way as salaried workers, which has led to some confusion.

“And they have many issues that surround that,” Mr. Weiss said. “If they take a vacation day, is it a full day or a half, and a lot of issues like that, so this is an attempt to bring people together to look at those issues and offer up a recommendation, if one can be reached, or not, by these two groups coming together.”

What complicates the matter further is that none of the secretaries work a 40-hour week. Their full salary, however, is calculated for the year and divided into 26 pay periods.

Currently there are 23 MVPS secretaries whose work hours equate to 22.35 full-time equivalent positions, according to school business administrator Amy Tierney.

Secretaries at Oak Bluffs and Edgartown schools in a 1,400-hour position work only when school is in session, she explained in a phone call this week.

Secretaries in Island schools in a 1,645-hour position work school hours, plus some additional school vacation and summer weeks.

Secretaries are considered full-time at 1,715 hours, Ms. Tierney said. They work 7-hour days, 35 hours a week when school is in session, and 4-hour days for seven weeks in July and August. By comparison, a full-time school administrator works 40 hours a week and 2,080 hours a year.

The side letter requires that a study committee made up of representatives from both sides hold its first meeting within four weeks of the contract’s signing. The study committee is supposed to make a final recommendation to the secretaries and AISC no later than June 30.

Committee member Les Baynes of Edgartown asked whether the MVPS has clear-cut job descriptions for the three types of secretarial positions.

“One of our problems is, all of the jobs are categorized as ‘secretary,'” Mr. Weiss said. “And there is a general secretary job description, which frankly is meaningless.”

Mr. Baynes suggested that each secretarial position requires a baseline job description that the committee should outline in a working document.

“That may be the first task the study committee says needs to take place, because we don’t have that,” Mr. Weiss agreed.

Long road to ratification

The secretaries’ new union contract was a long time coming. Their previous contract expired on June 20, 2010, as did ones for teachers, para-professionals, custodians, and cafeteria workers. Each group has a bargaining unit.

The Island has two teachers’ unions, whose representatives negotiate as one for the five bargaining units. Teachers in the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury school districts belong to the Martha’s Vineyard Educators Association. Teachers in the high school and up-Island regional school districts belong to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional Teachers and Educators Association.

A team of All-Island School Committee members and MVPS administrators began the contract negotiation process with the five bargaining units more than a year and a half ago, in July 2009.

By October 2010, negotiations had stalled between the secretaries and the AISC negotiations team. The groups sought the assistance of a professional mediator appointed by the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board.

Contract negotiations continue between the AISC and custodians and para-professionals, Mr. Weiss told the committee after the vote to ratify the secretaries’ agreement.

“Getting the secretaries’ contract ratified is awesome,” he declared with a smile.

Cafeteria workers agreed on a multi-year contract last June, with the exception of a wage adjustment, for which negotiations are set to reopen on February 9, Ms. Tierney confirmed in an email Monday.

Other business

In other business, Mr. Weiss introduced Janet Packer, a new Tisbury School Committee member. She was recently appointed by the Tisbury selectmen to fill the unexpired term of former member Rebecca Cass, who resigned.

Director of student support services Dan Seklecki presented and explained the MVPS special education program plan, which must be completed for the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In order for the AISC to sign off on the plan, all of the local and regional school committees had to vote to authorize their chairmen to sign it.

The AISC also voted to use the same superintendent’s evaluation survey process this year as done in the past four years.

Mr. Cabot, the AISC personnel subcommittee chairman, said he would change the way he reports the results this year, due to legalities. Although committee members will continue to receive numerical results for survey question responses by email, Mr. Cabot said he must present his usual summary of their comments at a public meeting.

Mr. Weiss said his office would email the evaluation form to all school committee members and the school cabinet in March, due back to Mr. Cabot by April 1.