Teachers' contract talks at impasse
NEW MILFORD - After three months of negotiations, the school district's teachers union and the
Board of Education
have reached an impasse and the state-mandated arbitration process will decide a new contract.
This is only the third time in about 20 years a contract could not be settled through mutual agreement.
In a joint news release on Wednesday, the two sides announced they had reached a stand-off after mediation a week ago but did not elaborate on what issues forced the negotiations to stall. School officials said the last time a teachers' contract was settled through arbitration was in 1998, and prior to that was 1984.
New Milford Education Association President Lisa Mosey and Schools Superintendent JeanAnn Paddyfote said that negotiation confidentiality prevents them from elaborating on the matter.
"Negotiations have been conducted in good faith, with respect for both sides' positions on the issues," the release stated.
Some involved have said they wished that negotiations had finished more amicably, but certain issues just could not be resolved and so arbitration was by state law the next required step. Though no one would specify whether salary increases were the sticking point, teachers have lamented the loss of a number of veteran colleagues in recent years to other districts because they pay so much better and offer stronger benefit packages.
The current teacher contract expires on June 30, 2006. In that contract, the beginning teacher salary is $37,994 and the highest level, step 17, for a teacher with a doctorate, is $76,856.
In that three-year contract, the general wage increase was 3.6 percent and employees were required to contribute up to 13 percent toward medical coverage, work an additional 4.5 days and participate in at least three school-related meetings a year. The average class size for kindergarten through sixth grade was to be 25 students and for middle to high school teachers five classes, one duty, one planning period and one minor extracurricular activity. The pupil per teacher ratio is 100 to 125 as a desirable range.
With this latest development, the teachers' union and board of education were scheduled yesterday to begin the arbitration process with each side picking an arbitrator, with a third neutral arbitrator also to be selected. Based on a time frame established by state law, the arbitrators will begin hearings to clarify the issues that remain in contention.
If during that process, the union and school board come to agreement on the issues at stake, the arbitration panel will prepare a stipulated agreement. If that does not occur, the arbitration panel will hear all the evidence from both sides, with each allowed to present a last, best offer related to the issues in dispute prior to the panel deliberating to reach a final, binding decision. That decision would be rendered in December.
At the same time the school board has been negotiating the teachers' contract, it was meeting with administrators. A tentative agreement was reached with the administrators a week ago. That is expected to be ratified by the board's Nov. 15 meeting.