New $2.3 million teacher contract includes 7.5 percent hike

Island teachers will soon be seeing fatter pay checks. — File photo by Lynn Christoffers

Martha’s Vineyard public school teachers and the All-Island School Committee last week ratified a new contract that includes pay hikes totaling 7.5 percent. It will cost taxpayers an estimated $2.3 million over its three-year term.

Overall total payroll for teachers’ salaries is expected to increase from an estimated $21,594,859 in the first year to an estimated $23,293,254 in the third year. The contract will take effect September 1, 2013, and run through August 31, 2016.

Teachers will receive a 2 percent salary increase in the contract’s first year, 2.5 percent in the second, and 3 percent in the third. Their salary schedule also includes step and track change increases, as well as longevity pay. Coaches and extracurricular activities advisors will receive a one-time salary increase of five percent in the contract’s first year.

One of the most significant changes is a provision that extends the school year by two days, one in the 2014-2015 school year during the contract’s second year, and another the third year.

“I have to say that this was a very positive, a very collaborative kind of negotiation, and we worked closely with the teachers,” Martha’s Vineyard Public School superintendent James Weiss told The Times in a phone conversation Tuesday. “There were some things they were interested in and some things we were interested in. And I think while, when you negotiate, some people aren’t always happy at the outcome, people felt good about the process and felt that we had reached a good conclusion.”

Streamlined process

Contract negotiations began last October between members of two bargaining teams, one representing the AISC and the other, Martha’s Vineyard’s two professional educator associations.

Teachers from the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury school districts belong to the Martha’s Vineyard Educators Association. Since the high school teachers and West Tisbury School and Chilmark School teachers work in the Island’s two regional school districts, they belong to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional Teachers and Educators Association.

Although the associations differ in membership, their representatives negotiate as one team. Mr. Weiss said Edgartown School teachers Sandy Joyce and Bridget Mello served as co-chairmen of the teachers’ bargaining team and school committee member Susan Mercier of Edgartown as chairman of the AISC team.

Unlike the previous teachers’ contract, which took 12 months to negotiate, the two sides reached a tentative agreement in about three months’ time, on January 17. Mr. Weiss said teachers voted to ratify the agreement on February 4 and the AISC on February 6. Now that both sides have ratified the tentative agreement, the next step is to draft and finalize the master agreement.

Contract highlights

Under the new contract, the overall total payroll for teachers’ salaries will increase from an estimated $21.5 million in the first year to an estimated $23.3 million in the third year, according to school business administrator Amy Tierney.

Those estimates, however, are based on the current pool of teachers, assuming their steps and tracks remain exactly the same over the next three years.The overall total payroll for teacher salaries in the current school year is $20,899,406, Ms. Tierney said.

For the 2013-2014 school year, a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree starting at step one will earn $48,383. At the top level, a teacher with a doctorate at step 13 will earn $91,787.

The longevity pay chart remains unchanged in the new agreement. It ranges from an additional $1,250 a year for teachers employed 10 to 15 years, to $4,250 for those with 30 years or more.

There are about 30 coaches and extracurricular activities advisors, according to Ms. Tierney. They last received a pay increase in 2010. Their stipends range from $250 to $3,000, with the majority paid $500, she said.

Currently there are 283 teachers Island-wide. The hours they teach equates to 268.575 full-time equivalent positions for a student population of 2,058, according to the October 2012 school census.

The salary increases in the new contract agreement also take into account two extra work days to be added to the school calendar, for a total of 182 in the 2015-2016 school year. Ms. Tierney said the additional days equate to about .5 percent of the salary percentage increases in years two and three of the contract.

Students now attend school 180 days and teachers work two additional preparation days and two professional development days.

“I don’t want to speak for the teachers, but our side really believed that with the increased requirements, the mandates from the State, the broader curriculum, just the needs in general, 180 days just wasn’t enough,” Mr. Weiss said. “So we tried to get a few more days, and we were able to get two.”

Teachers received a 4.75 percent total increase in their previous contract, with zero percent in the first year, 2 percent in the second and 2.75 percent in the third.

Mr. Weiss was asked what influenced the bargaining teams’ decision at a time that many people employed in the private sector are not receiving comparable salary increases.

“I think both sides believe that the economy that we dealt with the last time really required a zero percent increase that first year,” Mr. Weiss said. “Their feeling at this point, is that while things aren’t all that necessarily great, we aren’t in the depths as we were three or four years ago, so that a fair increase for each year was something that both sides looked at. Now, fair is something you negotiate.

“The school committees went into this from the point of view that what we were presenting was a package,” he added. “We’d get some additional days, we’d get some flexibility, we’d get some language, and for that, you get two, two and a half, and three.”

As Mr. Weiss explained, teachers’ salary increases are based on steps according to their years of service, and on track changes, which are related to additional education, such as a master’s degree or a doctorate.

Salaries rise a series of 13 steps for each year a teacher works. About 60 percent of teachers Island-wide are currently on the top step, Ms. Tierney said.

Since newly hired teachers are required to attend a two-day orientation program, a provision in the new contract agreement requires that they be paid a stipend of $250 per day for their participation.

Health care and other issues

Teachers will continue to pay 25 percent of the cost of their health and dental insurance plans. Due to a significant change in state health care regulations last year that shifted much of the cost to employees, Mr. Weiss said the school committees and educators’ associations agreed in the new contract to establish a “cafeteria” or Chapter 125 plan for teachers in the high school and up-Island regional school districts.

That would enable them to put a portion of their salary, pre-taxes, into the plan to cover medical expenses, if needed. The three down-Island towns already offer similar plans to teachers they employ, Mr. Weiss said. The two regional school districts will assume the setup costs for the plan, and ongoing third-party administrative costs will be paid from the fund itself.

The new contract agreement also includes amended wording to clarify provisions regarding retirement and sick leave. Teachers are given 15 sick days a year and allowed to accrue up to 200 unused sick days over the course of their career. The new agreement stipulates that a teacher with professional status who retires after 15 years of continuous service in the local system will be paid for accumulated sick leave. As in the previous contract, the rate remains is $30 a day.

The contract agreement also includes a new provision for individual schools to consider and design pilot programs to implement flexible scheduling. Mr. Weiss said the idea is that some teachers, for example physical education or music teachers, might start work at 10 am instead of 8 am, which would extend the time they would be available to students but not the number of hours they work.

“So if we can come up with ways to do that, we can get not only the additional days we’ve got, but some additional time spent on learning without great cost and allow people to be somewhat flexible,” he said. “We’re going to study that over the term of the contract. Each school will look at it first, because every school’s needs are different, and once we’re done with that, we’ll pull together an all-Island committee and look at it.”