With salary increases costing the town 2.73%, 2.98% and 2.99% over the next three fiscal years, a new contract will govern the employment of Ridgefield’s roughly 460 teachers.

The three-year cost to the town of the salary increases is projected at $129.6 million, based on the assumption the school system maintains the same teaching workforce.

“...The board is pleased with the contract. It confirms our commitment to ‘attract, support and retain talented educators,’” said Board of Education Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis. “The teachers, through their union, showed partnership in understanding our fiscal constraints reality, and there was movement on their part especially as it relates to insurance and the design of their plan.”

Along with the salary increases, the contract adds “managed plan elements” to the teachers’ health insurance, and increases their share of premiums while raising deductible levels on out-of-pocket costs to teachers when accessing health care.

“What we needed to balance this year were salaries for our members along with insurance costs,” said Jeanne Deming, president of National Education Association-Ridgefield (NEA-R), the teachers’ union local.

“We wanted to strike a balance,” Deming said.

Not counting pay for extra duties like coaching, the salary scale from the district’s lowest-paid to highest-paid full-time teachers ranges from $46,982 to $118,550 this year — 2018-19, the last year of the old contract.

And by the end of three years, that pay scale will go from $48,329 for starting teachers with just a bachelor’s degree to $125,356 a year for teachers with doctorates and 17 or more years of experience in 2021-22, the new contract’s last year.

The contract will run from July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2022. It was approved by the Board of Education and teachers’ union in November, and then had to go through a 30-day waiting period during which it could have been appealed. The 30-day waiting period, required by state statutes, ended in December.

The cost of paying the town’s more than 400 teachers under the new contract will be approximately $41.9 million for 2019-20; $43.2 million for 2020-21 and $44.5 million for 2021-22, according to projections by School Business Manager Dawn Norton.

Insurance

Health insurance changes under the new contract that are described as “managed care” address issues concerning teachers’ use of medical care services — frequency of office visits, prior authorizations — that are designed to help hold down the growth in health insurance premium costs.

There are increases in the annual deductibles teachers must meet before insurance begins covering medical expenses. Deductibles rise by $250 to $2,500 for singles and by $500 to $5,000 for families.

In addition, teachers’ share of the insurance premium costs will increase through the three-year contract: 20% in 2019-20, to 21% in 2020-21 and 22% in 2021-22.

‘Step increases’

Union President Deming said that the 2.73% “general wage increase” provides raises at that level to all teachers in the first year of the contract.

“The first year of the new contract, there will be a 2.73% increase for everyone,” Deming said. “The next two years there is step movement.”

The general wage increase in 2019-20 will bring up Ridgefield’s starting teacher pay, which Deming notes was the second lowest among the nine Fairfield County “DRG-A” school districts the state groups Ridgefield with for many comparisons.

This year (2018-19), the salaries for starting teachers with just a bachelor’s degree in DRG-A districts covered a range of almost $10,000. At the bottom are Darien ($46,932) and Ridgefield ($47,045) and the top are Weston ($51,238) with the highest starting pay $55,668 in Region 9 — which is Joel Barlow High School serving Redding and Easton.

With the “step increases” in the new contract’s second and third year, many teachers get raises by moving up a step on the salary schedule in recognition of having completed another year of teaching.

Some veteran teachers, who are on the maximum step for their level of education — 14 to 17 years’ experience, depending on their education level — will receive smaller raises in the second and third year than the teachers moving up on the step scale.

After the 2.73% in the first year, the increases for teachers “at maximum,” who don’t get step movement — roughly half the town’s teachers — will be 1.44% in year two of the contract and 1.47% in year three. The people moving up steps generally get slightly higher increases.

The 2.98% and 2.99% figures specified in the contract for years two and three are the amount the town’s cost will increase.

Class sizes

The three-year contract that runs through the 2021-22 school year addresses areas beyond pay and insurance, such as class sizes — where it essentially enshrines the status quo.

“It is agreed that a class size of 25 is the desired maximum in regular elementary and secondary classrooms,” the contract says. “…A reasonable effort shall be made to establish the sizes of kindergarten and grade one classes at 20…”

Physical education class sizes will be “compatible with accepted principles of safety and good instruction” and science labs, technical education class sizes should be. …commensurate with safety standards and effective utilization of equipment…,” the contract states.

Classes “in special education shall not contain more pupils than designated by standards developed and promulgated by the state Department of Education,” the contract adds.

“In evaluation of a teacher’s performance, consideration shall be given to the number of students assigned to him or her, in individual classes and in total.”

Pay increases

Here’s a look at how bottom and top pay levels will change under the new contract.

At the bottom of the scale, a starting teacher with just a bachelor’s degree — the minimum education required to teach — would get a pay increase from $46,982 in the last year of the expiring contract (2018-19) to $48,329 in the new contract’s first year (2019-20).

A teacher just a bachelor’s degree and 14 years’ experience would go from $81,276 a year under the expiring contract to $83,495 in the first year of the new contract.

In the second and third years of the contract, the starting pay and the levels of the first 13 steps on pay scale remain the same, but teachers with less than 14 years in the classroom would get raises by moving up a step for having another year of experience.

Teachers with just a bachelor’s degree who are “at maximum” — on the top, or 14th step — in terms of experience would get increases to $84,697 a year in 2020-21 and to $85,942 in the contract’s third year, 2021-22.

There are eight different education levels for which teachers are paid at different rates — higher pay for more education.

At the top of the scale teachers with the most education, a doctorate or Ph.D., are the highest paid.

In the last year of the old contract, 2018-19, teachers with doctorates were on a 17-step scale running from $63,352 to $118,550, with more pay for more years of service.

In the new contract’s first year, 2019-20, the 17-step scale for teachers with doctorates would increase, going from $65,244 to $121,786.

In the next two years of the contract, the bottom of the scale remains the same — although teachers at less than maximum would move up on the steps — and the 17th or top step of the scale increases to $123,540 in 2020-21, and to $125,356 in 2021-22, the contract’s third and final year.

So, the district’s highest paid teachers — with doctorates and 17 years experience — would go from $118,550 this year, the last year of the old contract, and under the new contract make: $121,786 next year, 2019-20; make $123,540 in 2020-21; and make $125,356 in 2021-22, the new contract’s last year.

Comparison

Both Deming, the union local president, and Stamatis, the school board chair, said the pay in the new contract is within a range determined by what teachers in other Connecticut towns make — it’s more than what is paid by many of the state’s less affluent towns and cities, but less than what teachers make in some of the neighboring affluent suburban districts in DRG-A, the demographic comparison group the state puts Ridgefield in. (Connecticut’s DRG-A school districts are: Darien, Easton, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, Wilton and District 9 (Joel Barlow High School serving Redding and Easton).

“It’s always nice to work in a district like Ridgefield, it’s a high-quality district,” Deming said, “But there are definitely districts that pay a lot more.”

Stamatis said that what neighboring affluent districts offer teachers is one of the realities the school board had to keep in mind when negotiating — along with taxpayers’ concerns with expenditures, and need to attract and retain good teachers.

“As contracts are negotiated, we have to watch closely what other school districts in DRG-A, Fairfield County and Connecticut have agreed to,” Stamatis said.

“If we ever had to go to arbitration, the standard would be ‘ability to pay’ not ‘willingness to pay’ so we have to look at other economically similar districts to understand what that standard means for us,” she said.

“For us” she added, “there were some nearby districts that came to terms before us with a higher wage increase than we ultimately agreed to.”