By ARDEN BASTIA Warwick teachers voted Monday to approve a three-year contract that would give them salary increases in the second and third year, as well as increase healthcare co-pays. The new contract is projected to have little impact on the Warwick
Warwick teachers voted Monday to approve a three-year contract that would give them salary increases in the second and third year, as well as increase healthcare co-pays.
The new contract is projected to have little impact on the Warwick Public Schools budget, as the school committee voted on Tuesday to approve the layoff of 34 full-time employees this year, and an additional 20 to 30 layoffs in 2023.
The only detail Darlene Netcoh, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, shared about the membership meeting was that the contract “passed overwhelmingly.”
According to the department’s financial impact review for FY21 there is no salary increase, but there is a 2.5 percent increase in both FY22 and FY23. The contract also includes a 4 percent increase in healthcare co-pays in FY22 and a 6 percent increase in co-pays in FY23. The FY22 employee contributions are equivalent to 17 percent of the FY22 health insurance premiums, and the FY23 employee contributions are equivalent to 18 percent of the projected FY23 health insurance premiums. According to the review compiled by the Warwick Public Schools’ finance department, based on the current health insurance enrollment, the district would expect to see an increase in employee contributions of $637,589 in FY22 and an additional $371,709 in FY23.
Netcoh said the next step for the contract is another meeting with the school committee to “integrate the language of the tentative agreement into the existing contract,” a process she said will take place “hopefully soon.”
David Testa, school committee member, said the contract was “mostly housekeeping stuff, nothing substantive in my opinion.”
At the previous school committee meeting on May 11, Testa shared his criticisms of the tentative agreement.
“When these discussions began a couple years ago, we were all asked for what issues were important to us. And for myself, I had healthcare co-shares, a certain number of sick days [the current contract provides for 90 sick days], professional development and the secondary schedule,” said Testa. “But from what I can see, in this CBA (collective bargaining agreement) none of those have been addressed.”
The teacher contract expired in August 2020.
The contract will be made public after a meeting between the WTU and the school committee.
School committee chairperson Judy Cobden declined to discuss the contract until it has been made public.
On Tuesday, Netcoh shared her thoughts about the contract negotiations, particularly about Superintendent Phil Thornton’s lack of involvement.
“Phil was not involved in negotiations from the start, because Phil is not interested in negotiating. In 2015, when he entered the district, the school committee and the union were at the beginning stages of the process of meditation. He went to one mediation session and immediately filed for interest arbitration which lasted almost two full years and cost the district half a million dollars,” said Netcoh.
According to the fiscal impact review of the WTU contract, the FY22 fiscal impact of the tentative agreement, which is $2.293 million, can be absorbed within the FY22 School Committee recommended budget with negligible adjustments. The current FY22 School Committee recommended budget includes a one percent salary increase for WTU membership, totaling about $1.2 million in salaries and non-health benefits, and $500,000 in arbitration and legal fees associated with a contested contract negotiation that can be re-appropriated to the increased WTU salaries and benefits. These budgeted funds, plus the additional employee health contributions, totaling $637,000, will offset the additional expense due to the increase in salaries. The total offset will be $2.337 million against an increase of $2.293 million, freeing up $44,000 in the local budget.
In light of decreased enrollment, Warwick Schools administration recommended employee reductions.
In addition to the 34 full-time employee reductions for this year, the school committee expects to further reduce the WTU workforce by an estimated 20 to 30 full-time positions due to projected declines in enrollment in FY23. There are currently 892 members of the WTU.
Netcoh, in her public comment at Tuesday night’s meeting, urged the committee to reconsider the reductions.
“You need to reject your administration’s spurious reasons for laying off teachers,” she wrote. “The administration alleges that the district has lost 1,200 students, yet has provide no timeframe for that supposedly precipitous decline. My own investigation has determined that there are at least 400 more students this year than the official tally.”
Netcoh also pointed out that registration for the fall is “ongoing”, and once in-person learning resumes five days a week with busing, “You will need teachers to teach those students.”
“Do not lay off teachers and throw their lives in turmoil, only to recall them in the fall,” she wrote.
During the meeting, the committee voted four to one to proceed forward with the layoffs. Committee member Karen Bachus voted against the layoffs.