2018-09-06 / Front Page

Council Ratifies Teacher Contract

By Christopher Allen

In a packed town hall chamber in anticipation of the Middletown Town Council vote on a new three-year contract between the local teachers’ union (NEAM) and the Middletown School Committee, the council unanimously approved the labor agreement during their September 4 meeting.

“I fully intend to support this. I want to publicly thank the teachers for the great job that they do,” said council member Henry Lombardi, Jr.

The ratification a day before the first day of classes for the 2018-19 academic year allows Middletown teachers to enter their classrooms under contract.

To help offset the projected $1 million in salary increases over the duration of the contract, Middletown teachers will be paying increases in health insurance deductibles. In addition, there is a reduction in retiree benefits. Teachers who retire after July 1, 2020 will receive a maximum of three years of post-retirement health care. Furthermore, future retirees will pay 20 percent of their total healthcare coverage.

“This contract is a fair contract. We worked throughout the year, looking at many different areas. We feel that the school department is a service organization. Eighty percent of our budget is for employees. Our employees do deserve a fair raise. Our teachers are the heartbeat of our educational program,” said school Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger in her opening remarks to the council.

The new contract includes a 1 percent pay raise for teachers in the first year and a 2.5 percent raise for the remaining two years of the agreement. The first year will see a total increase of 1.35 percent, due to a stipulation included in the prior teachers’ contract.

“The raises for our teachers are not the lowest in the state [and] they are not the highest in the state,” said Kraeger.

Council members remarked on the adversarial position of the two parties at times.

“Nobody wants a battle with the teachers, or the teachers don’t want to battle with the council or the school committee. We want to do what is fair and equitable for everybody. Not just teachers, but for the residents of Middletown [and] the kids of Middletown,” said council Vice President Paul Rodrigues.

“Am I happy with all of it? I don’t think anybody would be happy with all of it. But, it’s a contract and that’s what negotiations are about,” he said.

“I don’t agree with all of the math,” said Council President Robert Sylvia, though echoing support for the contract. He disputed some of the cost savings claimed by the school administration.

Sylvia closed his remarks before the vote by adding for the record that the council would not be obligating the full funding of the contract to the future town council. With the upcoming election on Nov. 6, including two challenges to town council seats, it would be up to the next elected body to determine whether or not to increase funding to cover the salary increases, though the contract is legally binding after ratification.

“We do not have the standing to do that. Because in a matter of a few weeks, there could be a different council [elected],” said Sylvia.

Reached for comment on Wednesday morning, Sylvia reiterated his support for the agreement, which is in line with recent increases in other town departments, including most recently the Middletown Police Department.

Sylvia added praise for the teachers of Middletown, who he sees as often playing multiple roles in their duties beyond subject lessons and the administration of tests.

“I talk to a lot of the students,” he said, “and they look at their teachers in a light that a lot of people I don’t believe understand. Many of the kids look at them not only as their teachers, but also as their mentors…. where they can go [to] as their confidant.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Kraeger characterized the agreement as mutually equitable, to Newport This Week. “Both sides [are] recognizing the challenges that we have financially... we are pleased that this [process] is behind us and we look forward to a great year.”

The Town Council meets next on Sept. 17.

In other matters:

. The council approved a resolution proclaiming September National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

. Awarded two contracts to C.B. Utility Company, Inc. in the amount of $175,850 for town line sewer improvements at Rogers Lane and Burton Place and in the amount of $443,602 for further sewer improvements on Bliss Mine Road.

. Awarded a contract in the amount of $100,000 to Sealcoating, Inc. to perform roadway crack sealing services. . Reappointed Howard R. Hall to the Conservation Commission.

. Appointed Carol A. Sarro to the Library Board of Trustees.

. Appointed Siobhan M. Bogosian to the Middletown Prevention Coalition.

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