School Committee 2012-2013
Dr. Paul Schubert, Chairman
155 Sohier Street, Cohasset, MA 02025
2nd Term, expires 2015
Paul Ognibene, Vice Chairman
Mrs. Jeanne Astino, Secretary
2nd Term, expires 2016
744 Jerusalem Road, Cohasset, MA 02025
1st Term, expires 2016
September 19, 2012
TO: MEMBERS OF COHASSET SCHOOL COMMUNITY
FROM: CHAIRPERSON JEANNE ASTINO
DATE: SEPTEMBER 19, 2012
Some of you may have learned by now that contract negotiations between the Cohasset School Committee and the Cohasset Teachers’ Association have not yet resulted in a signed agreement. You may also have noticed concerted activity on the part of teachers in support of their collective bargaining representatives at the negotiating table. We are releasing this statement to outline our thoughts on the current circumstances, particularly as the union’s activities may become more public, perhaps prompting questions and concerns from students, parents and community members.
We have had a number of formal negotiating sessions since January 2012. The Committee’s negotiating team has reached tentative agreement with the Teachers’ Union on many of the issues raised at the bargaining table. However, we have not yet been able to finalize a complete agreement. We plan to utilize the procedures available under state law in seeking the appointment of a mediator to assist us in bringing these lengthy negotiations to a close.
In the meantime, please note that the terms of the teacher contract that expired on August 31, 2012 will remain in effect, thus ensuring continuity of operations for our schools. Many Cohasset teachers will still realize increases in their salaries, even without a signed contract, due to movement from one “Step” to the next on the 16-step salary schedule. This is true even before any percentage increases to base salaries are applied.
Teachers on the top, or 16th step, do not receive an increase by virtue of step movement, since they have already reached the maximum step. The Committee has attempted to reach agreement with the Union that would translate into fair, yet fiscally responsible, terms that would allow for an increase in the base salaries for senior staff members as well as those still advancing on the steps of the salary schedule.
Despite the difficult negotiations, our teachers have continued to work hard on behalf of students, and are a highly valued resource. They deserve our full support. However, in an era of fiscal challenges, valuing teacher contributions does not justify ignoring economic reality. We are advised that, over the next few years, the town as a whole will face many economic challenges, including a still-weakened economy, slow growth of tax revenue, increases in utility costs, and the funding of a substantial reserve account in the coming years for post-employment benefit funding, as a result of 2012 Annual Town Meeting action taken pursuant to state health insurance laws. Therefore, we do not expect any significant increases in the size of our school budget. We must offer contract terms that reflect these economic circumstances. We cannot make a promise to pay salaries that we ultimately will not be able to afford. Otherwise, we might face painful and deep staff cuts that could weaken, not maintain, the quality of education in Cohasset.
In light of this information, we believe our proposals strike a fair balance among competing factors.
As the teachers have indicated in their welcome letter to parents, health insurance coverage for all town employees underwent a change last year. The Town elected to adopt a change in the design of health insurance plans. Although co-payments for such things as prescription medication and doctor visits increased, the cost of insurance premiums decreased. As teachers have informed you, this change resulted in a savings to the Town. In addition, employees saw their premium contribution costs decrease. Cohasset school employees were also able to offset co-payment increases by accessing a mitigation fund that the School Committee established.
We are proud of the fact that Cohasset performs comparably with high performing districts, and the fact that we have been able to attract and maintain teachers of the highest quality. When reviewing the compensation packages of high-performing districts that the teachers have identified in their welcome letter to parents, one must be mindful not only of salary figures, but other factors including the amount of instructional time within the work day, contributions toward health insurance premiums, and the town’s ability to pay salary increases. Salary is one factor, but it is not the sole factor that we consider when looking at the overall equity of a contract. Taking into account all relevant factors, we believe that we have proposed a contract that is equitable and recognizes, in a fiscally responsible fashion, the hard work of teachers in providing services to our students.
We believe that teachers will continue to deliver quality services on behalf of the school district, and that Cohasset students will continue to be taken care of, despite the differences that have arisen at the bargaining table and the outward displays of support that union members may exhibit on behalf of their negotiating team in the coming days. We are confident that our staff will continue to act professionally, even though we are currently in disagreement as to how to bring contract negotiations to a fair and reasonable conclusion.