The finalized contract giving Ridgefield teachers 3% raises for three years running was officially filed in the Town Clerk’s office late Wednesday afternoon, triggering a 30-day review period during which the contract may be challenged by the town.
Taxpayer advocate Ed Tyrrell has been lobbying the Board of Selectmen to call a town meeting to reconsider the contract, negotiated late last year between the Board of Education and the teachers union, The National Education Association-Ridgefield (NEA-R).
In a statement to the Board of Selectmen last week, Mr. Tyrrell explained the process as he understands it: “Once they file it with the Town Clerk, state statute gives the Board of Selectmen 30 days during which you can reject the contract forcing it to go to binding arbitration. Also, during those 30 days, the citizens of Ridgefield have the right to petition for a town meeting or referendum where they can vote to reject the contract…”
He told the selectmen: “Either before you at a meeting similar to this, or in front of a town meeting, the BoE (Board of Education) should have to defend their proposed contract. That is the purpose of the state statute.
“If it is as great as they say it is, then it will not be rejected. If it doesn’t measure up, it will be rejected and go to binding arbitration where municipalities are faring better than ever,” he said.
“Wilton went to arbitration last year and Newtown did it this year; two towns very similar to us. If we only did as good as Newtown recently did, we would be saving $853,000 per year at the end of this contract. That is far more than the cost of the arbitration, but more importantly sends a message that we will not roll over during future negotiations.”
The contract terms agreed to by the union and Board of Education gave teachers raises of just under 3% a year for three years running — 2.9%, 2.84% and 2.97% on an annual salary account of about $39 million.
School board members say they got the union to agree to a variety of changes to teachers’ benefits, including a phase-out of previously free health benefits for retired teachers, who will start having to cost share with the board under the new contract.
School board Chairman Austin Drukker said actuaries were calculating the savings to the town over time achieved by renegotiation of what labor negotiators describe as “other post employment benefits.” School board negotiating committee member John Palermo said in a column in The Press in December that these costs could mount to a $72 million liability for the town over time, if they weren’t renegotiated.
“That’s where the savings come in, is the long term. This is a long term benefit for the town as a whole,” Mr. Drukker said. “We had to give up a little in the beginning to get something for the town in the end.”