2015-11-05 / Front Page

Pact Cuts OPEB in Half

By Olga Enger

The Newport School Committee promised taxpayers significant savings on Monday, Nov. 2, as they ratified a three-year labor union contract with the Teacher’s Association of Newport (TAN) with a 6-1 vote. School Committee member David Carlin voted against the motion, citing concerns about the negotiation process.

“I don’t blame TAN for their vote of no confidence,” said Carlin. Last week, TAN, which is made up of about 200 teachers, voted to ratify the contract, but also voted “no confidence” in the School Committee and voted, for a second time, “no confidence” in Superintendent Colleen Jermain.

Carlin said all seven members should have sat on the negotiating committee. School Committee Chair Jo Eva Gaines and Committee members Sandra Flowers and Kathleen Silvia were on the negotiating team.

Attorney Mary Ann Carroll, the representative for the School Committee, said it would be unusual for the entire committee to sit on a negotiating team, and that she regularly communicated with mem- bers through meetings, emails and phone calls during the process.

Jermain said the main benefit to Newport taxpayers was the reduction of the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability, which may be cut up to 50 percent, from $50 million to $25 million as a result of the new contract.

“Everyone knew the OPEB liability for our school system was very high,” said Jermain.

“It’s been a long road, with a lot of tensions,” said Committee member Rebecca Bolan. “It’s been a long, long process… there are a lot of deep-seated feelings.”

Bolan said she does not support increased class sizes, which had been a sticking point for the union through negotiations. Although the new contract allows flexibility to increase classes in exchange for teacher compensation, Bolan said she would not support using that option as long as she sat on the committee.

Teachers ratified a tentative agreement on Wednesday, Oct. 28, that was finalized by the negotiating committee in an all-day mediation session the week prior.

“You know it is a good contract if everyone is unhappy with it,” said Gaines.

The ratification introduced seven major contractual changes:

(1) Salary increases

1.5 percent increase for 2015-16 school year.

2.5 percent increase for 2016-17 school year.

2.75 percent increase for the 2017-18 school year.

Based on 211 full-time employees, salary increases, including pensions and payroll taxes, are expected to cost $1.3 million over the three-year contract.

(2) Maximum class size increased by one student for middle school and language was introduced to exchange teacher compensation for increased classes.

Kindergarten classes will have a maximum of 16 students per class, or 23 students with a teacher assistant. Elementary school classes will have a maximum of 24 students per class and high school and middle school classes will have a maximum of 25 students per class.

Before the new contract was ratified, the district was required to open a new class if the number of students went over the maximum. The ratified contract allows a class to go over by four students in elementary school and three students in middle school and high school. Elementary teachers would be compensated $15/day per student for the first three students over the class size and $50 for a fourth student. Middle school and high school teachers would be compensated $6/day per student for the first two students over and $100/ day for the third student.

(3) The new contract eliminates longevity except for 20 year of service and beyond. Under the previous contract, teachers received longevity payments beginning at 10 years of employment. This change is estimated to save the department $40,800 over the threeyear contract.

(4) A buyback program was phased out. Under the previous contract, teachers could opt out of the health plan and receive $2,500. This will be reduced to $1,250 in the contract’s first year and then eliminated for the remaining two years. This is estimated to save the department $300,000 over the three year contract.

(5) Additional salary benefits require the teacher to hold a master's degree. Teachers holding bachelor's degrees plus 30 or 45 credits will no longer qualify.

(6) Extended benefits for teachers after age 65 will be reduced from 99 teachers receiving the benefit to 22, reducing OPEB liability by 50 percent.

(7) Severance language was modified, which eliminated pension costs within the severance for a departing teacher.

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