TYNGSBORO -- School officials came to an agreement on new teachers' contracts in record time this year at Greater Lowell Technical High School, agreeing to an average 2 percent raise through fiscal 2018 while educators cover more of their health care costs over time.
The School Committee and teachers' union agreed to two contracts, one for fiscal 2015 and the second for three years from fiscal 2016 to 2018. The School Committee unanimously approved both June 12.
In the first agreement, teachers will pay 15 percent of their health-care costs with a 2 percent raise in fiscal 2015. In the second agreement, for fiscal 2016, teachers will cover 20 percent of their health-care costs with a 2 percent raise and a $500 increase for those at the highest step. In the second year, only teachers at the highest step will receive a 2.5 percent raise and health-care costs will not change. In the third year, teachers at the highest step will receive a 2.5 percent raise again, and teachers will shift to covering 25 percent of their health-care costs overall.
Superintendent Roger Bourgeois credited the speedy agreement, reached in about 10 weeks, to an "interest-based bargaining" style for the negotiations. In that process, he described how parties meet in the same room together to discuss their needs openly.
Bourgeois added a 2 percent raise was anticipated in the budget for 2015 earlier this year so there will be no impact to the set $37.6 million budget.
Bourgeois noted the 2 percent increase in 2015 for all staff comes to a total cost of $450,000 for 2015. Health-care shifts in fiscal 2016 from the teachers' contract will save the district $289,000, resulting in a total cost to the district of $245,000 when factoring in educators' raises. In fiscal 2017, the raises for teachers will cost the district $469,000. Finally, in fiscal 2018, the salary increases for teachers totaling $479,000 with savings in $319,000 from the health-care shift will cost the district a net total of $160,000. The projected cost savings are based on the assumption premiums will increase at an average rate of 5.1 percent.
Bourgeois said he believes these additional costs will be easy for the district to work with down the line. Teachers can stick with their Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance offered through the Bay State Health Collaborative as well.
School Committee member Ray Boutin served on the negotiations subcommittee and said he was pleased with the deal. He said teachers understood officials received a 1.1 percent budget increase in funding from their communities this year.
The school announced in April it would have to cut 14 positions for fiscal 2015, largely through attrition, to make up the difference when the school was facing a 3.7 percent increase to level-fund its budget. The school needed to reduce its overall budget then by $950,055 at that time and officials found a majority of their savings in eliminating those nine full-time and five part-time positions.
"I went in to the negotiations hoping everybody would come out happy and they would find things fair," Boutin said, "and I think it was a fair contract that showed appreciation for the teachers that we were able to offer something."
School Committee member Fred Bahou who also served on the subcommittee said he was satisfied with the agreement, too.
"About three or four years ago it took over a year and a half to approve a contract," he added. "This really benefited both the teachers' union as well as the students."
Greater Lowell Teachers Organization President Cheryl Bomal could not be reached for comment.
Bourgeois noted teachers were additionally able to negotiate 20 pages relating to a new evaluation process which will promote communication between teachers and parents and guardians of students in the coming years. Households will now receive evaluations halfway through quarters of the year before report cards are sent out.
"We're just trying to improve communication with kids and parents about how they're doing so we can give them feedback," Bourgeois explained. "If there are issues or problems, we get them addressed earlier. If they're doing well, we reinforce that."
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