The All-Island School Committee (AISC) voted unanimously at its last meeting of the school year Tuesday night to ratify a new three-year tentative contract agreement for Education Support Professionals (ESPs). The contract provides a two-percent increase for fiscal year 2014 (FY14) and FY15, and an adjustment from two to five percent for some salary steps for half of FY16.
“These truly are the people who are delivering the services directly to the kids, sometimes in a very challenging position,” committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury said after the vote.
Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools employ 128 ESPs. Superintendent of schools James Weiss said about 50 ESPs attended a meeting a few weeks ago and voted to ratify the new agreement.
Their previous contract expired at the end of the fiscal year in June 2013. With the agreement’s approval, hourly rates for ESPs will be increased on the pay scale by two percent effective on July 1, 2013, and they will receive retroactive pay for year one of the new contract. The anticipated increase was already built into FY15 school budgets.
As Mr. Weiss explained, the new agreement’s proposed nine-step salary matrix includes different hourly rates for ESPs based on education. For example, for fiscal year 2013-14, an ESP without a college degree hired at step one would earn $17.26 an hour, an ESP with a bachelor’s degree $17.60 an hour, and an ESP with a master’s degree $17.95 an hour. That compares to $16.92, $17.25, and $17.60, respectively, as their last negotiated salaries for FY13.
The Island has two educators’ professional associations, the Martha’s Vineyard Educators Association and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional Teachers and Educators Association. Their representatives negotiate as one team for teachers, ESPs, cafeteria workers, secretaries, and custodians. Each group has a collective bargaining unit.
Mr. Weiss said the ESP unit and AISC’s negotiating team met for several sessions before seeking the assistance of state Labor Board mediator Joseph Griffin. The ESP unit suggested and agreed to an adjustment in how the percentage increase would be applied in the proposed contract’s third year, to reduce the overall salary cost increase from $195,000 to $94,000.
The ESPs also agreed to establish a “cafeteria” benefits plan and to work an additional day in the 2014-15 school year and a second additional day in 2015-16. Additionally, the new agreement includes a category for longevity pay, in the amount of $2,750 after completing 30 years of service.
In other business, the school committee unanimously approved a bid of $11,500 from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) to conduct a superintendent’s search, starting next fall. Mr. Weiss plans to retire at the end of the 2014-15 school year. MASC’s bid, the lowest among three submitted, includes the cost of the search process and consulting services, expenses, and advertising.
With the exception of Mr. Manter, the school committee also voted to approve salary increases recommended by Mr. Weiss for management and non-union employees in the superintendent’s office and transportation office.
The AISC agreed to give Mr. Weiss a pool of money, three percent of the total salaries for administrators, to distribute at his discretion. Mr. Weiss said the salary increases ranged from 2.5 to 4 percent, with the exception of the assistant superintendent, business administrator, and Director of Student Support Services, who have increases built into their contracts.
The school committee also heard a report on special education programs from Director of Student Support Services Phil Campbell. He recommended that a third classroom for the Bridge program, which serves students with autism spectrum disorders and communication and social interaction disorders, should be established at West Tisbury School. Two Bridge Program classrooms are currently located at Edgartown School. Mr. Campbell also recommended moving one of the Project Headway preschool classes from West Tisbury School to Oak Bluffs School.