Town Council members did not take action on the new three-year teachers’ contract at their meeting Monday, so the agreement was deemed approved after the Jan. 16 deadline.
During a special Town Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 7, Jeff Seymour, president of the Monroe Education Association, said it was a fair contract for both sides, adding the gross wage increase for Monroe’s teachers is just under 8.9 percent, while the average from 59 settlements in Connecticut since August was 9.14 percent.
“We’re below the average,” he said. “There’s nothing outrageous about this contract.”
The three-year-contract includes raises of 2.89 percent in 2020-21, 3 percent in 2021-22 and 3.01 percent in 2022-23. The agreement was hammered out through hours of mediation, then signed by Seymour and Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Lane, who said the board unanimously agreed to it.
“The mediation process is not designed to create winners,” Seymour told council members Jan. 7. “None of us left the meeting feeling like we won anything, but the contract is fair. We believe these are really fair numbers and if we go to arbitration, I don’t think any of these numbers will change.”
Seymour said teachers’ copay for health insurance was 21 percent, but when the Board of Education was hit with a high number of claims in its self-insured health care plan, it wanted to switch to the state plan to find savings during the year.
“We were told it would save millions of dollars,” Seymour said. “We said we were glad to help the town save millions of dollars.”
To entice the MEA to reopen their contract and support the change, the school board offered to reduce teachers’ co-pay from 21 to 18.75 percent.
In the new contract, Seymour said the union agreed to work its way back up to 21 percent. According to the contract, teachers’ premiums are 18.75 percent in the first year, 20 in the second and 21 percent in the third.
However, not everyone spoke in support of the new contract. Town Council Chairwoman Enid Lipeles had read a letter from Board of Finance Chairman Michael Manjos into the record that night.
In a year that the education budget has a shortfall of over $1.5 million and the superintendent is proposing a new budget with a 5.7 percent spending increase, Manjos urged the Town Council to reject the deal so the town could take its chances in arbitration.
Manjos said the agreement would add $738,109 to the Board of Education’s budget in the first year, $786,347 in the second and $813,947 in the third — over $2.3 million over the life of the contract.
Manjos said there will also be an additional $11,467 per year in stipends and said the health care savings in years two and three are misleading, because insurance costs will increase every year. He noted this year’s increase is 10 percent.
Monroe’s average teacher salary is the eighth highest in the state and third highest in the District Reference Group of comparable towns, according to Manjos.
He said teachers are already well paid and a one percent lower salary increase would allow for smaller class sizes without the youngest teachers having to be fired.
“We can’t expect the taxpayers to support significant mill rate increases, and historically we have only been able to pass budgets at a 2.5 percent increase or less,” Manjos said in his letter. “I would suggest that you ask the Board of Education to provide a detailed list of what it will take to get down to this level and how many staff they are prepared to eliminate.”