BARRE — With no outside assistance and more than two weeks to spare, Barre’s newest school board has put the finishing touches on a pair of one-year contracts covering nearly 400 unionized teachers and para-eductors employed in what will soon be the Barre Unified Union School District.
Thursday night’s back-to-back ratification votes were both historic — it’s a first of its kind contract in Barre — and anticlimactic — the newly consolidated Barre Educators Association ratified the deals on May 29.
Since then, most members of the recently elected board have been privately briefed on the contents of the settlement that was tentatively reached on May 21. All but one of them — Gina Akley — also serve on one of three school boards whose operational authority will end with the July 1 launch of the state-ordered merger of the two-town, three-school Barre Supervisory Union.
Just to be safe Superintendent John Pandolfo opted not to publicly release the details of the contracts until members of the Barre, Barre Town and Spaulding High School boards had been briefed and the new board was ready to ratify it.
According to Pandolfo, wages were the key feature of both contracts, which cover unionized educators employed at separate pre-K-8 schools in Barre and Barre Town, as well as Spaulding High School and the Spaulding-based Central Vermont Career Center.
One of those contracts covers roughly 280 teachers and contemplates investing 3.1% “new money” for wages that would be distributed based on modified 13-step, six-column salary schedule.
Pandolfo said that doesn’t mean individual teachers will see their wages increase by 3.1%. Depending on where they fall on the salary schedule, he said, some will receive more and some less.
According to the contract, the starting salary for a teacher with no previous experience will increase from $38,310 to $38,930. A teacher at the very top of the salary schedule will be paid $68,907 — up from $67,809 under contract that expires June 30.
The contract doesn’t reflect any significant change in previously negotiated health insurance benefits, though it does double the amount — from $500 to $1,000 — the district will pay employees who choose opt out of the district’s health insurance plan.
With a statewide health insurance plan for educators in the process of being negotiated, Pandolfo said both sides agreed to maintain the status quo in the interim.
There were a number of mostly minor changes including many that acknowledge the supervisory union and its member districts will all be extinguished and replaced by one new district the day the contract goes into effect. In similar fashion, it also acknowledges the consolidation of what had historically been three separate associations into the one — the Barre Educators Association — that will bargain on behalf of all unionized educators — both teachers and para-educators — going forward.
Pandolfo said the wage increase reflected in the one-year teachers contract was comparable to those negotiated in other area districts.
“It’s a fair settlement from all perspectives,” he said.
Pandolfo said the same was true of the jointly negotiated contract with the new district’s 110 para-educators. That contract, he said, reflects a larger than usual pay raise — $1.25 an hour.
Even with that increase, Pandolfo said para-educators in Barre lag behind many surrounding school districts in terms of hourly compensation. Depending on education and experience the pay range for the a first year para-educator would be between $13.50- and $14.90-an-hour, he said.
Chairman Paul Malone said the increase was needed to remain competitive when it comes to recruiting para-educators and to be fair to existing employees.
As was the case in the teachers’ contract, the previously negotiated health insurance benefits did not change.
However, Pandolfo said the probationary period for para-educators was increased from 45 to 92 days and workplace safety language that mirrors the teachers’ contract was incorporated into the agreement with para-educators.
Both contracts will start July 1 and run hrough June 30, 2020.