2007-09-13 / Front Page

School board, teachers union sign three-year contract

By Donna K. Drago

Shortly before the School Committee was scheduled to meet last Thursday evening, the Jamestown Teachers' Association ratified their new three-year contract, which will run until June 30, 2010.

The school panel voted unanimously to accept the terms of the new contract.

School panel chairwoman Cathy Kaiser said she and the committee were "delighted," that the JTA signed the collective bargaining agreement and credited both sides with a willingness to "share the burden," especially in the area of rising healthcare costs.

Teacher Phil Capaldi, who was at the school board meeting representing the JTA, said he would not give an exact vote count on the contract. "It was not unanimous," Capaldi said about the union's vote.

Kaiser said the contract negotiations involved "a lot of meetings, a lot of time," and said that both sides gave "a lot of devotion," to finalizing an agreement.

One major difference in the new contract includes that teachers will now pay a higher co-pay for medical services in coming years.

Kaiser said that the negotiating teams considered options to either raise the percent that teachers pay toward the cost of their health premiums, or raise the co-pay and the sides agreed to increase the copay.

As of the signing of the contract, new teachers and those not already on the program will no longer be allowed to choose Blue Cross Classic as one of their options. Only Blue Cross' Healthmate will be used moving forward.

The co-pay amount for urgent care will now be $50 and there will be a $100 co-pay for emergency room visits, but, during the next three years, the school district has agreed to reimburse a portion of teacher co-pays up to a maximum of $5,000 per year for the entire union membership.

Another change to the contract is that language has been added that would allow the school panel to change healthcare providers, "thereby increasing the incentive for carriers to price premiums competitively," Kaiser said.

A minor change includes that teachers who share a job, must now both be Jamestown School teachers, "whenever possible."

Salaries will rise 3.5 percent in the first year of the agreement, and 3.25 percent in each of the next two years.

The contract specifies that in the coming year, first year teachers will be paid $37,431 and those at the highest "step," will be paid $68,319. Teachers also receive added stipends for extra education credits and can receive an extra $2,500 per year for being National Board Certified teachers.

The contract raises the stipend paid to athletic coaches from $750 to $900.

School Committee member William "Bucky" Brennan asked to discuss the contract prior to the committee's vote.

He said that Jamestown and all Rhode Island communities will have less money to spend on teacher salaries in coming years due to what's being called the Paiva Weed Bill, which was enacted last year to reduce the cap on town spending each year by a quarter of a percent. The bill was introduced by Sen. Teresa Paiva-Weed, Jamestown's representative in the General Assembly.

Brennan said that while teachers are getting a 3.5 percent pay increase according to the terms of the contract, when that percent is coupled with the annual "step," increases for experienced teachers, the rate of additional pay is "actually 8.5 percent," each year.

Because Jamestown receives very little in state education aid, taxpayers pay nearly the entire cost of education, Brennan said "there is a limit as to what taxpayers will tolerate," and he warned that the negotiating process "isn't going to get any easier."

The next business meeting of the school board is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Lawn Avenue School library.

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