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Why teacher contract is a fair package

There has been some debate in the press, district, and in town regarding the recent contract settlement between the Ridgefield Board of Education (BOE) and the Teachers Union representing the teachers in the district.

Some of this debate has been related to post-employment medical benefits, salary, medical benefits for teachers, as well as the length of day that teachers work. In all cases however one of the most important items to note is that we negotiate these items as a “contract” package vs. individual line items.

Contracts must be looked at in their entirety. To look at only one portion would not be fair as it is a package that is negotiated, not one individual item.

This year’s focus was on four main items: (1) post- employment benefit plans; (2) salary; (3) benefit plans (POS vs. HSA); (4) work rules or other work related contract language changes.

It is important to note that the process in Connecticut includes regular contract sessions that must conclude within a finite time from when they start, and then proceed through a mediation process. If at the end of the mediation process the two parties cannot agree, the parties submit to an arbitration process.

If the negotiations process moves to arbitration, the arbitrator goes down the list of requests one by one and makes a decision on each item. The arbitrator does not compromise or reach a middle ground. He or she simply says yes or no to each sides request and then moves on to the next.

It is because of this process that it’s to the advantage of both parties to settle prior to reaching this step.

During this year’s contract negotiations we reached agreement with the teachers union on the following main items:

Post-employment benefits plans: In Ridgefield a policy existed that allowed someone to retire (with 35 years of service or greater with the district) without having to pay for any of the cost of those benefits. With the dramatic increase we have seen over time since this policy was put in place (1975), it was no longer affordable to the district to maintain this benefit. As a result, we worked with the Teachers Union to begin the phase out of this benefit.

In addition we will also introduce new plans, with a similar level of benefit, for both current and future retirees (after July 1, 2013) who will now have to share in their cost. These plans will offer a similar level of benefit at a dramatically reduced cost than in past years. The projected cost of these post-employment benefits were estimated prior to these changes to be approximately $72M over time, which will be substantially reduced, as well as a substantial reduction in current period costs. The amount of the reduction will be determined at the next actuarial valuation report due next summer.

Salary: We negotiate the salary component as one overall increase, versus separate components for Step and a Gross Wage Increase [GWI]. A number of factors are analyzed, one being how other districts are paying their teachers across both our DRG and the state, another being ability to pay. In Ridgefield case, we agreed to overall increases of 2.9%, 2.84% and 2.97% for a three year increase of 8.71% that if there were no changes in personnel, the cost would be $3.1M. We expect teacher turnover to reduce the dollar value of the contract cost.

BOE paid benefits: The cost of providing medical benefits has been increasing at a dramatic rate. This is well known. In Ridgefield four years ago we started down a path to introduce cost saving high deductible medical plans (an HSA) as well as other changes in life insurance, dental and vision care to teachers. This enabled us to start lowering costs, while providing a similar level of benefits to the POS plans that were in place.

We had hoped that more teachers would have moved to the HSA during those years. This year we were able to work with the teachers union to move all the teachers to an HSA as our primary plan as well as introduce a prescription co-pay medicine plan. Teachers can stay in the POS plan they had, but have to pay the difference from the cost of the HSA, which is substantial.

The design point of the HSA is such that it is less costly and many towns and school districts in Connecticut have followed our early lead. The move to the HSA will save the district $2.7M over the life of the new contract versus the previous contract.

Rules and language changes: This year, there were many language items to consider and the administration felt that there was a need for additional time to be added to the schedule for professional development, one of the most important parts in keeping abreast of new ideas which will then help in the education of Ridgefield students. This time addition to the schedule allows the district the ability to reach all of them at once and to help facilitate this process. The cost to make this change is assumed to be included in the overall salary rate for the new contact.

The overall process is time consuming. We started this year in July and concluded in late October. The team doing this work has a lot of experience and has made sure that they have the best legal and benefit consultants to aid in the process. The contract elements must be looked at in their entirety. To look at only one element is not how complete packages are negotiated. To call out one item saying it is too high, does not consider any offsets that exist in other items.

We again have a fair package that benefits the town, the district and the teachers.


This article was written by John Palermo with input from Irene Burgess and on the behalf of the Board of Education Negotiation Committee (Richard Steinhart, chair; Mr. Palermo, Irene Burgess and Austin Drukker).

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  • rdg-oldtimer

    The opposing side of this negotiating committee are the townies that do not accept as gospel the well worded articles about the schools and towns needs. I reject “a fair package” referred to in this article and will vote accordingly. If voted down, it goes back to the drawing board. Schools do not close and the roads still get plowed.

  • ABordeux

    All the recent three year Connecticut teacher contract salary increases I could find:

    Ridgefield 8.97%
    Seymour 8.87%
    New Canaan 8.63%
    Plainville 8.4%
    New Manchester 8.36%
    Groton 7.5%
    New Milford 6.95%
    Weston 6.85%
    Cheshire 6.7%
    Darien 6.63%
    Redding 6.6%
    Trumbull 6.2%
    Wilton 6.1%
    Tolland 5.98%
    Monroe 5.85%
    Waterford 5.75%
    Branford 5.73%.
    Hamden 5.7%
    North Brandford 5.3%
    Farmington 4.5%

    These are “all in” numbers, meaning combined salary and step increases, apples to apples comparisons.

    Could the BOE please comment here as to why Ridgefield is at the top of this list?

  • http://janrifkinson.blogspot.com Jan Rifkinson

    ABordeaux, good data points.

    Mr. Palermo suggests that we should look at the entire package yet no one has come forward with that information.

    It’s one thing to say that benefits going forward will be reduced by $2.7m over the life of the contract (b/c of the move to HSA) but that # is presented in a vacuum.

    What will the teachers’ raise cost over that same period? Does one cancel the other, i.e.has there been ANY overall savings to the taxpayer to be found in the newly minted, yet-to-be-discussed teacher contract? Would there be if the teachers’ incremental raises were more conservative?

  • Kirk

    The school voting block is Rudy’s most reliable supporter … to insure he gets this support he has to consistently deliver more money each year … and this he has done. To off load this to some arbitration weakens his claim to the education voters’ loyalty at the ballot box … he will fight this to the bitter end.

  • ABordeux

    I was hoping for a response from the BOE and a legitimate discussion of the Ridgefield teacher salary increase, but all I’ve seen so far is a letter in the paper from the BOE praising themselves for this contract.

    Again, why is Ridgefield at the top of the list for salary increases?

    I take issue with any suggestion in these articles that Ridgefield achieved health insurance concessions from the teachers which offset the salary increase.

    Every town on the list achieved health concessions from the teachers. * See below.

    Let me say that again, EVERY TOWN IN THE LIST HAS ACHIEVED HEALTH CONCESSIONS, so this can’t justify why Ridgefield is paying higher salaries than every other town in the list.

    Even look at this, the DRG A towns of Wilton, Darien, and Weston are doing exactly the same thing healthwise as Ridgefield. They are converting all their teachers to the HSA type insurance. But their 3 year salary increases range from 6.1% to 6.85%, well below Ridgefield’s increase of 8.97%.

    Richard Steinhart, I’m reaching out to you,. Please respond here and explain to us residents why this teachers contract is a good deal for Ridgefield, in light of all the other lower contracts being signed by other towns.

    * Here are the health concession reported by every town on the list:

    Seymour 8.87%
    “increased employee cost shares for health and dental insurance that will result in potential savings to the district”

    New Canaan 8.63%
    “moving to a high-deductible health plan with a health savings plan, which the district said will save money on health care costs in the long term.”

    Plainville 8.4%
    “The agreement, also, sharply increases the teachers’ share of health insurance costs over the life of the pact — reducing the town’s cost, officials said, by more than 30 percent.”

    New Manchester 8.36%
    “The cost-share of retirees health insurance is going to double”

    Groton 7.5%
    “Teachers, under the new contract, will be paying more for health insurance with higher co-payments and a larger percentage of cost-sharing.”

    New Milford 6.95%
    “a three-year contract that gives teachers limited salary increases but higher medical contributions.”

    Weston 6.85%
    “The parties agreed to require all members of the bargaining group to enroll in the Health Savings Account (HSA) plan.”

    Cheshire 6.7%
    “significant changes to the district’s health care plan. Those changes include an increase in cost sharing in which teachers’ contribution will rise”

    Darien 6.63%
    “almost the entire teachers corps will move from traditional PPO insurance into health savings accounts.”

    Redding 6.6%
    “Important healthcare cost savings were also agreed to”

    Trumbull 6.2%
    “Other aspects of the new contract include increases in employee contributions.”

    Wilton 6.1%
    “The Board’s position to institute a High Deductible HSA plan as the sole option for eligible employees, which will slow cost increases for health insurance over the life of the contract, also prevailed.”

    Tolland 5.98%
    “Insurance premiums are set to increase incrementally”

    Monroe 5.85%
    “teachers will switch to high-deductible health savings accounts (HSAs) from traditional health insurance plans, and increase the percentage of the insurance premium they pay.”

    Waterford 5.75%
    “Teachers will pay a higher rate of the cost share for health insurance,”

    Branford 5.73%.
    “Teachers will see a rise in health insurance premium share contributions”

    Hamden 5.7%
    “the new contract provides for significant changes to the teachers’ health benefits that promise substantial savings”

    North Brandford 5.3%
    Increase cost sharing

    Farmington 4.5%
    “and brings big savings in both insurance spending and wage increases.”

  • ABordeux

    I was hoping to hear back from the Brd. of Education. This is important.

    To parents of school aged children, this should be particularly important to you. Over the past 5 years the voters have approved spending increases of 2% per year. If we continue to give teachers an increase 3% per year. where will the extra money come from? I think the only place is to cut school programs. This has already happened over the past few years. I think it will continue to happen if we continue to be at the top of the salary list for all these Connecticut towns.

    Brd. of Educartion, I’d very much appreciate a response. Can you please explain why RIdgefield is at the top of this salary list and how this helps Riodgefield students if we keep cutting into programs to pay for these salary increases. Thank you.

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