160 Westport teachers on cutting board spared by union deal
WESTPORT — It appears most of the 160 Westport teachers handed pink slips will get to keep their jobs after a last-minute deal was reached between the district and teacher’s union.
The Board of Education and Westport Education Association (WEA) have agreed to terms that would switch the teachers over to the state health plan, saving the school board more than a $1 million in this year’s budget.
Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer announced at a Friday special meeting that the teacher’s union — the last and largest of the seven unions representing Westport Public School employees to join the state plan — had agreed to the board’s terms, only a week after more than 160 pink slips were given to non-tenured employees as a supposed cost-saving measure.
“In recognition of the fiscal challenges that the Board of Education faces for the 2018-19 school year, and in the spirit of collaboration, the Westport Education Association has agreed that the district may seek to move health insurance to the state partnership plan 2.0 effective Sept. 1, 2018,” Palmer read from a joint Board of Education-WEA statement at the start of the meeting.
Though the WEA had sought to lower the total amount its members contributed to their premiums — and increase the school’s contribution — from 21 percent to 18 percent, they ultimately settled on 19.5 percent over the next two years.
The decision came two days after the Board of Finance reinstated $1.13 million — the anticipated savings realized by the board as a result of the WEA switching insurance — out of a total $2.05 million cut into the Board of Education budget, assuming that a deal would be reached with the WEA. Palmer said she expects that money will be returned to the Board of Finance as soon as Monday.
WEA representatives were critical of Palmer’s decision to send out the pink slips, calling the move disrespectful and suggesting it was a dirty negotiating tactic. Even with the agreement, the board must still come up with $750,000 in cuts as mandated by the Board of Finance. Options laid out include reducing one elementary school teacher, two Coleytown Middle School full-time teachers and two associated half-time special teachers and one Staples teacher, among others. But Palmer said after meeting that the board would try to find non-personnel related cuts.
The board did vote unanimously to send pink slips to long-term and permanent building substitutes, though Palmer and Westport Public Schools Director of Human Services John Bayers said that is done every year.
“I can’t tell you how relieved I am. One of my teachers was on the list and I am so grateful that the negotiations worked out and we’re able to keep all the wonderful teachers we have,” said Coleytown Elementary School parent Youn Su Chao.