Educators Head to Arbitration


Commentary

By Chris O’Brien

Administrators Salary Chart

Town officials and school administrators will be meeting Friday to work on an arbitration package to their contract which was rejected by the Town Council in November. That contract proposed 0%, 3.5%, 3.5% increases over 3 years on top of step increases and merit pay. The contract was negotiated by the Board of Education which rejected the contract on a 3-4 vote before going into executive session and then approving the contract at the same meeting.

Its not that the administrators- or anyone with a job – doesn’t deserve a pay raise. Certainly parents in Wolcott seem satisfied with quality of education in Wolcott and the BOE continuously reminds us that they have the lowest per capita per pupil spending in the state. In addition, according to the US Dept. of Labor, Wolcott’s administrators earn almost $2,000 less than others administrators in the state. Teachers instruct generally fewer than 20 pupils per class and deal with social issues from outside the classroom. Teaching and administering to students isn’t easy. Given a blank check though, how much should we give them? Taxpayers can only pay what they can afford. If taxpayers are not making more money, how can we rob them through taxation in order to pay our public servants more? We must also consider that the Greater Waterbury region has had the highest unemployment rate in the state for the past two years.

The proposed contract was flawed because of the size of the increases. Administrators will not be receiving 7.0% over three years as reported by the Republican American – but new administrators can make potentially up to 17.8% over their base salary. This is an $18,000 increase!!! Why? Well, there are step increases which a new employee is eligible to receive each year in their employment up to step level 4. See Appendix A included at the top of this article. Are you or have you ever made salary increases like these?

In contrast to these exorbitant provisions witten into the contract, Mayor Dunn last year foresaw the risks of increasing salaries during a poor economy. Public works and Secretaries union members agreed that while they have difficult jobs- often being called into work at any hour in the middle of the night or on holidays to plow snow for many hours – that they would sacrifice for the town. Let’s remind ourselves that when the snow or ice isn’t plowed, the consequences in an accident can be life changing.

Education defenders argue that Wolcott “we may lose good teachers’ or that the cost of arbitration is larger than the savings we could achieve… so why don’t we just give this money away. Both of these old arguments all flat on their face. Wolcott has never had an exodus of teachers to other towns nor any problem filling open positions despite having the second lowest salaries of any town west of the Connecticut River. Future contracts will be based on this one and we remind town officials that while we may save only a few thousand dollars by renegotiating this contract, it only covers eleven employees. The savings past this 3 year contract as well as the precedent it sends for contracts such as the teachers union (over 100 members) will be well worth the cost of arbitration. There are factors besides salary that are important in retaining good teachers and I hope the BOE realizes that.

We don’t know what persuaded BOE members to vote for the contract after they voted against it, but Town Council members were aghast at what was proposed when they rejected the contract at a special meeting in November:

Gale Mastrofrancesco said that “It sounds like there’s a very tenuous grasp of economic reality. We have unemployment of 10% with no sign of short term economic recovery.” She also was concerned about the message this contract sends to other unions as the basis for future negotiations and the impact on future budgets.

Fran Masi talked to a friend in New York who was involved in his town about the contract. Upon hearing the proposed percentages he replied ‘don’t you realize there’s a recession going on?” Masi continued to comment that “they should be thankful that they have a job,” in respect to today’s economy.

The final vote of the Council on whether to reject the contract was:
YES: Masi, Perrone, Bokon, Mastrofransco and Olmstead voting to reject the contract.
NO: Valletta voted to accept the contract.
Marsella abstained because of a family conflict and Santogatta didn’t vote. Petroniro was unable to attend. The vote took place two days before Thanksgiving on short notice.

Over the past month we have seen a number of school systems having problems. Naugatuck is $2,000,000 out of budget. Wallingford is threatening to lay off over 100 teaching and support positions. Plainfield held a town meeting a few days ago on whether to reject their school administrators’ contracts which had 2.5% increases. Ledyard’s superintendant says they are $1 million in the hole. Administrators there have agreed to a wage freeze which would save $72,000 and teachers may approve a wage freeze tonight totalling $800,000 in savings. Meriden also rejected a school administrators’ contract with mere 2.3% increases. Never before have so many towns been challenging these contracts and have difficulty in their budgets. And the Governor’s $2 billion budget shortfall may lead to even more cuts to funding municipalities and schools.

The answer to budget woes isn’t fewer teachers or staff members, but an acknowledgement by everyone that we will give the resources we can when we can in order to educate our future. But now is not the time to ask for a raise. The Council was correct in saying “no… not now. We can’t afford it.”

Before Wolcott’s Town Council meeting ended, Superintendant Macary asked Councilmen for suggestions on what the Council members believed would be fair to negotiate. These ranged from 1.5% to 2.5% per year. Mayor Dunn suggested negotiating for dollar figures instead of percentages – a proposition which would make increases easier to understand. It would also narrow the widening gap between administrators.

The Whisper welcomes comments and letters. Click on “Leave a Comment” or send letters for publication to cobrien7@hotmail.com

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