School board agrees to new contract with teachers
The School Committee voted 3-1 to approve the proposed teachers’ contract, noting changes in compensation, as well as a review of the current step-system format, which dictates salary increases for teachers.
School Committee member Julia Held was not in attendance at the panel’s June 7 meeting, and therefore did not vote. The approved contract will run through 2014.
Included in the contract for the 2012-13 school year is a 12th step for teachers, where step 11 had previously been the cap on the step scale. This new step amounts to a salary increase of $1,425 more than the previous step. Only teach- ers who have been on step 11 for more than one year will progress to this newly created step.
“By law you can only have 12 steps so this would be our final addition of a step,” said Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser, noting that teachers on all steps will continue progressing to the next step but will not receive a percentage increase on top of their step increase.
The system will also function in the same way for the 2013-14 school year, with the only change being an additional one-time payment to those teachers on the highest step. “Teachers who have been on step 12 for one year will receive a one-time payment of $1,525, an amount that will not be added to the base salary and hence will not contribute to future cost escalation,” Kaiser said.
Rhode Island law states that school districts must use a step system for teacher salaries. According to Kaiser, the current system sends teachers on a “fast track” to the top step. “The system gets you to the top fast, but it then just leaves you hanging.”
Kaiser noted that once a teacher reaches the top step – which under the current structure takes 12 years – there is no major salary increase unless a percentage increase is passed in the budget. “Traditionally in school contracts before the economy tanked,” she said, “regularly you gave some sort of increase. In good years, back in the early 2000s, you gave 3 percent across the board.”
She then went on to explain the issue with percentage increases under the current step system. “Let’s say the typical district has 10 steps. What happens is you have the steps up until step nine and then suddenly you get this gigantic jump between step nine and step 10 because for years school committees were agreeing that the people at the top needed something, and everyone else was stepping. What happened is people are jumping $10,000 between the last two steps.”
She continued, “Even when you give an across-the-board increase, let’s say back in the years when it was 3 percent, well 3 percent of $38,000 is a lot less than 3 percent of $70,000.”
The current system of step and percentage increases made more sense when teachers traditionally retired early. “They’re no longer retiring early,” said Kaiser. “Now they’re going to have a 30-year career, a 35-year career. In the first [12 years], they’ve reached the top. So what do they do for those other 18 years?”
As teaching careers lengthen past previous averages, the cost of this system to residents is also being addressed. Committee member BJ Whitehouse said that from the taxpayer side, “If we were to look at 2 or 3 percent raises to encourage the teachers to stay, that could be unbelievably unsustainable very quickly.”
Committee member Sav Rebecchi voted ‘no’ on the teacher’s contract, citing concerns about the cost of the current step system over the coming years.
“The hurdles, or changes, that I wanted to produce would have taken far more time then we had to come to an agreement and achieve benefits,” he said. “I can say that I agree with [Kaiser] that the most promising aspect is the facing of, and the awareness, that our step system, our pay system, is not sustainable.”
Rebecchi said he was pleased that the teachers’ association decided to participate in addressing the problem and trying to come up with an accurate solution.
“For that part of it I am very happy,” he said. “But in principal ... I am not going to vote in favor of the contract.”
Also during the meeting, the School Committee’s scholarship panel, comprised of Whitehouse, Fran Gorman and Nora Santamour, announced the recipients of the Elizabeth Stone Scholarship Award. Shay Lynn Reilly and Nicole E. Perez will each receive $2,000 scholarships towards their college educations.
“They were clearly unanimous choices on the part of our committee,” said Whitehouse.