By GAYLA CAWLEY
SWAMPSCOTT — After more than a year of negotiations, the Swampscott Education Association (SEA), or the teacher’s union, and the school committee have come to an agreement on a three-year teachers’ contract with a 3.5 percent raise.
The union successfully ratified the agreement two weeks ago, which was unanimously approved by the school committee last Wednesday. The contract outlines a 1 percent retroactive raise for the 2016-17 school year, 1 percent for 2017-18 and a 1.5 percent increase for 2018-19.
“I couldn’t be happier that the teachers’ contract was ratified unanimously by the school committee,” Superintendent Pamela Angelakis said in an email. “It has been a long 17 months of negotiations for both sides. It’s time to put all of the hurt feelings behind us and continue to move this district forward, and as always, we will do it together.”
The contract includes an early retirement incentive, which was sought by both sides, and the creation of a health and safety advisory committee, according to Carin Marshall, school committee chairwoman.
She said the committee was on the minds of many people, including teachers, parents and the rest of the school district, “to keep the health and safety of everybody in our buildings in mind.” The committee will be made up of one SEA representative from each building and up to five appointees by Angelakis, according to the contract.
The retirement incentive would go into effect upon confirmation of at least six teachers giving notice of intent to retire under the program by April 13. As of last week, Angelakis said there have been eight members who signed up under the program, exceeding the minimum.
Teachers, with at least 12 years of service in the district, receive a single payment of $15,000 and receive any end of year longevity payment which they have earned. Amy O’Connor, school committee vice-chair, said the incentive allows the school district to hire new teachers at lower salaries.
Marshall said “this is the result of a year-and-a-half-long arduous, but ultimately fruitful endeavor that we worked very hard on, both sides.”
Nancy Hanlon, SEA president, could not be reached for comment on the ratification of the contract after numerous attempts by phone and email.
The teachers’ union turned down a proposed contract in January, issuing a statement on Facebook at the time about why they “overwhelmingly rejected” it. The SEA said there was no language in the contract to protect the professional autonomy and educators’ judgment, and no language giving educators sufficient voice in school-based decisions.
As part of the statement, the union also questioned the “dramatic change in statement” of the school district’s budget deficit, which was reported as “$1.6 million at the start of mediation when salary bargaining was underway and was…pegged at $275,000 after a tentative agreement had been reached.”
Hanlon issued a separate statement to The Item at the time that the contract rejection was based on several factors, the least of which was monetary, and that the SEA thought that teachers were not being treated with respect as professionals.
Contract negotiations continued as school officials struggled to achieve a balanced budget while initially facing a $1.722 million spending gap. Officials were able to reduce that gap to $275,000 through salary and expense reductions, but were still faced with the unpopular scenario of potentially eliminating free all-day kindergarten.
Ultimately a balanced budget was achieved through an increase in town allocation to the school department and further expense reductions, and free full-day kindergarten was saved.
Town and school officials have said that 80 percent of the school budget is already devoted to salaries and that contractual increases are outpacing the revenue the town could give to the schools. Before opting to increase town allocation by $200,000 more than was initially projected, town officials argued they would not advocate for allocating more funds to the school department if it would potentially go toward payroll, rather than keeping programs.
O’Connor echoed that sentiment. She said contractual increases take up so much of the school budget that it disallows them from doing other things, and cuts have to be made in other places, such as program updates and maintenance of buildings.
In addition to cost of living increases each year, teachers also get paid step (determined by the number of years a teacher is there) and lane (furthering education may trigger an increase in pay) increases. Teachers can also earn money through stipends from extracurricular and other responsibilities, O’Connor said.
O’Connor said, like the 1.5 percent raise the school committee gave the superintendent, “we would have loved to have given significantly higher raises, but with the town finances how they are, this was really the maximum of how much we could give, based on how much the cost of all our contracts take up from the budget.” She said all contracts, in addition to the teachers, such as those for custodians, secretaries and other personnel, make up that 80 percent figure.
‘We’re really happy that after 17 months of very difficult negotiations, we’ve come to a contract agreement that both the teachers’ union and the school district is happy with,” said O’Connor. “We think it reflects a good working relationship between the administration and its valuable teachers.”
Gayla Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.