By Katina Caraganis
TOWNSEND -- Teachers in the North Middlesex Regional School District will get no cost-of-living increases in fiscal 2013 or 2014, a 1 percent increase in fiscal 2015, and step increases in fiscal 2013, 2014 and 2015 as part of an approved three-year contract.
The total cost of the increases over the life of the contract is $1,568,841.
In FY13, FY14, and FY15, teachers who are eligible to move steps will get a three percent step increase in each of those three years. For people who are maxed out on their steps, they will get a two percent increase in FY13, a 2.25 percent increase in FY14, and a 2.5 percent increase in FY15.
The average over the life of the contract for teachers who are still eligible for step increases is 3.33 percent and for maxed out teachers, the percentage of increase is 2.58 percent.
Superintendent of Schools Joan Landers said that the teaching staff has made various concessions over the past three school years and the contract, as accepted, is fair.
During the 2009-2010 school year, teachers experienced a pay freeze for the first half of the year, for a savings of $500,000.
In the 2010-2011 school year, there was an increase in health care contributions, and teachers agreed to change to a rate saver plan, which in total, saved the district $775,000.
Additionally, teachers took on $122,000 worth of furlough days and agreed to shoulder frozen tuition reimbursements to further their education, for a savings of $65,000.
Last year, teachers went without their tuition reimbursement, had no step increases or COLA increases, and had another change in health care plans with higher co-pays.
"It totaled over $1.5 million at the time so I thought this was a fair contract they negotiated. I think it was a reasonable contract given the fiscal times," Landers said. "I am looking at working with the teachers union in collaboration like they have in the past. They have stepped forward at different times for the benefit of the district."
The last of the negotiating was done in executive session at School Committee meeting at the end of Aug., and the vote was taken in open session.
School Committee member Ken Brown said the contract was reasonable and he felt comfortable with the decision.
"I wouldn't have voted if it wasn't reasonable. We've been working on this for a good six months anyway. I think it was a longer bargaining process because of where we're at and the fact that we were coming off of a year without a contract basically," Brown said.
School Committee member Jonna Clermont said she voted against the contract not because she feels the teachers don't deserve a raise, but because she's worried the district may not be able to meet the contractual obligations in a couple of years.
"I don't feel we have a long-range plan in place yet. I'm just worried we won't have enough money to fund the contract and we'll have to lay people off," she said. "I think people need support in classrooms, like reading and math specialists and guidance counselors. These are some needs we have, and I don't know how we will fund them with the raises."
Clermont said there could have been a better balance, like smaller raises and then hiring the necessary support staff.
"I couldn't vote yes knowing we don't know where the money will come from," she said.
Clermont and Joseph Sergi, a Pepperell selectman and municipal representative to the negotiations, both voted against the increase, while Michael Morgan and Anne Adams abstained from the vote.