PAWTUCKET — In a move that grants some concessions for the remainder of the current contract and provides some structural savings going forward, the city's teachers have tentatively agreed to a new contract.
On Friday, School Committeeman Alan Tenreiro, who is the chief negotiator for the Pawtucket School Committee, and Pawtucket Teachers Alliance President Ron Beaupre announced in a joint press release that the two sides had reached a “tentative agreement” on a new pact.
The agreement, which includes furlough days, two years of pay freezes, and an increase in health care co-pays among overall savings of $5 million, would run through June 30, 2013. The teachers are currently working under the third year of a contract that expires on June 30 of this year.
The contract amendments include teachers taking a two-year pay freeze, saving taxpayers $3.8 million, teachers taking up to two furlough days in the 2011-2012 school year, saving almost $600,000, and a change in the health carrier that will result in structural savings of almost $250,000. Additionally, active and retired teachers will have a percentage-based health insurance co-pay of 9 percent this coming fiscal year and 10 percent next fiscal year, saving approximately $450,000.
The new contract terms were ratified at a Wednesday membership meeting of the Pawtucket Teachers Alliance and now head to the full Pawtucket School Committee for a ratification vote at the next public meeting. In addition to Tenreiro, School Committee members Nicole Nordquist and Michael Araujo also served on the negotiating team.
Tenreiro, who serves as vice chairman of the School Committee, said, “These are difficult times for Rhode Island's cities and towns, particularly for Pawtucket. It is gratifying to see our teachers 'step up to the plate' for the taxpayers and the school children. This important step will go a long way toward solving the structural budget deficit in our schools and allow us to properly focus on the education of our children.”
Beaupre added, “Our teachers have once again shown that they are willing to be part of the solution to Pawtucket's fiscal problems. Hopefully this contract sends a clear signal that we are committed to the students and the taxpayers of Pawtucket.”
Tenreiro concluded the statement by saying, “This contract would never have been completed without the thoughtful and professional manner exhibited by the Pawtucket Teachers Alliance. Obviously in these difficult times it is not easy to ask anyone to make major concessions, but difficult times also demand that concessions be made for the sake of the taxpayers. The Alliance showed true leadership in negotiating a contract that recognizes the severe financial challenges we face in Pawtucket.”
When asked about the new contract, Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke told The Times, “I am so very grateful to the Pawtucket Teachers Alliance and their understanding of the economic issues, and their willingness to make the concessions that are good for the community and the school district.”
Cylke added that she is also “extremely grateful” for the leadership of the School Committee's Labor-Relations Sub-Committee that consisted of Tenreiro, Nordquist and Araujo. She called the new agreement “a huge step toward a balanced budget.”
Cylke noted that this new pact will result in about $2.6 million savings for fiscal year 2012 (with $5 million in total savings coming over the two years of the new contract). This will help reduce the $7.3 million deficit that the school budget was projected to be facing for the coming year.
Cylke said that there are other cost-cutting measures being explored to drive down that deficit further, such as changing the scheduling and making other modifications at the high schools and junior high schools, bringing some out-of-district special education students back into the school district for services, and asking for across-the-board departmental budget cuts. She also noted that the city has been asked to contribute more to the FY12 school budget in light of the $2.9 million that was cut last year. “That's still a piece of the puzzle at this point,” she said.
Cylke added that there will be a second School Committee meeting scheduled this month to discuss the FY12 school budget further. The budget must be submitted to the city by May 1, she added.
Tenreiro noted that the new pact is significant in that it grants concessions in FY12 that will help reduce the school budget deficit. He said it affects approximately 800 active teachers and 300 retired teachers. He noted that in terms of furlough days, these are “true furlough days” in that they won't be allowed to be deferred to the following year or “cashed out” if unused. He said they would likely be achieved through the elimination of a “floating” professional day in May and the last day of school.
Tenreiro also said he thought the fact that the parties involved in the contract talks did not have confrontations went a long way in helping forge a new agreement. He said that the school administration, city administration and mayor were “more interested in cutting a fair deal rather than pointing fingers.” He added, “We all have a responsibility as leaders in this horrible fiscal situation to come up with solutions.”
Douglas Hadden, director of communications and constituent services for Mayor Donald Grebien, said that the mayor “hopes the other unions are paying attention” to the teachers union's action. “In these difficult times, shared sacrifice is going to be necessary. This deficit is very real and very deep and it will take some difficult measures to solve,” he said.
Hadden said the administration is continuing to talk to the unions, but that no concessions have occurred yet on the scale that is needed. However, he also said that Grebien and his administration believe that more can be accomplished by trying to do things in a “more cooperative way” than has been done in the past.