New teacher contract carries a $2.5 million price tag

Edgartown School. — File photo

Martha’s Vineyard public school teachers and the All-Island School Committee (AISC) last week ratified a new three-year contract that includes annual pay hikes totaling 6.75 percent over the life of the agreement. The cost to taxpayers is an estimated $2.5 million over its three-year term, which begins Sept. 1, 2016, and ends August 31, 2019.

“The negotiations were a very smooth process; it seemed like there was a lot of trust and support on both sides, for the teachers and with the consideration to the town and the overall cost of the contract,” Assistant Superintendent of Schools Richie Smith told The Times. “We felt it was very reasonable and realistic.”

Teachers will receive a 2 percent salary increase in the first year, 2 percent in the second, and 2.75 percent in the third, for a total of 6.75 percent. Under the previous 2013 contract, teachers received a 7.5 percent total increase in their contract, with 2 percent in the first year, 2.5 percent in the second and 3 percent in the third.

Additionally, the contract includes an increase in longevity pay. Teachers who work 10 to 20 years will see an increase of $250 per year, up to $1,500 for 10 to 15 years of service; and up to $2,250 for 16 to 20 years of service.

Teachers who work 21 to 30-plus years will see an increase of $750 per year, up to $3,500 for 21 to 25 years of service. That ceiling will increase to $4,250 for 26 to 30 years of service, and $5,000 for 30-plus years of service.

The contract also includes a provision that decreases the school year for students by two days, from 182 days in class to 180. The decrease comes with a corresponding increase in professional days for teachers, from two to four, for a total of 186 work days.

The first day of school is scheduled as a full professional day, followed by two preparation days. The contract specifies that every effort be made to ensure classrooms are clean and ready for setup prior to that first professional day.

For the most part, the new contract is an updated version of the previous contract. Most of the existing benefits remain unchanged. These include 15 sick days per year and 5 personal days, which are deducted from sick leave. Teachers may accrue up to 200 sick days over the course of their career and upon retirement redeem unused sick days at a rate of $30 per day, after 15 years of service. Teachers are responsible for 25 percent of the cost of health insurance and 50 percent of the cost of dental insurance.

Teachers are provided 225 minutes of preparation time per week. Subject to administrative approval, they are also reimbursed up to $350 per credit per year up to nine credits for courses that provide professional development.

Salary figures up

Under the new contract, the overall total payroll for teachers’ salaries will increase from an estimated $23.2 million in the first year to an estimated $25.4 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.

Increases in teacher salaries are based on a series of 13 steps tied to years of service, and on track changes, which are related to additional education, such as a master’s degree or a doctorate.

For the 2016–17 school year, a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree starting at step one will earn $52,102. At the top level, a teacher with a doctorate at step 13 will earn $98,842. Currently there are four teachers with a doctorate at step 13.

About 60 percent, or 167 teachers Island-wide, are currently on the top step, Ms. Tierney said.

The breakdown by lower pay steps is: one teacher (step 1), four teachers (step 2), four (step 3), seven (step 4), 11 (step 5), 12 (step 6), six (step 7), eight (step 8), 17 (step 9), 12 (step 10), 15 (step 11), and 13 (step 12).

Currently there are 275 teachers employed in the public school system for a student population of 2,117, according to the October 2015 school census.

Streamlined process

Contract negotiations began in November between members of two bargaining teams, one representing the AISC, and the other team from 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. Because the high school, 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. High school teachers Doug DeBettencourt and Mike Joyce served as co-chairmen of the teachers’ bargaining team, and school committee member Susan Mercier of Edgartown was chairman of the AISC team.

“Working with the union was a smooth process,” Mr. Smith said. “I was happy and relieved that we all were collaborative.”

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some wrangling, however.

“There was negotiation, there was back and forth,” he said. “We were just advocating for one another’s positions, the financial side of things on our side, and taking care of staffing on the other side.”

The two sides reached a tentative agreement in about three months’ time. Teachers voted to ratify the agreement on Jan. 26, and the AISC on Jan. 27. Now that both sides have ratified the tentative agreement, the next step is to draft and finalize the master agreement.