WEST — The school district’s most senior teachers will receive a 2% pay increase in the first year of a new three-year contract and 1.5% raises in each of the final two years of the agreement. Members of the Westerly Teachers Association, the union that represents educators who work in the city’s public schools, are all required to switch to a high-deductible health insurance plan that features a 50% co-split, under the pact.
The union, which has 265 teachers, ratified the new contract on Wednesday and the school committee unanimously approved it on Thursday. The terms of the contract were part of a non-binding recommendation issued by an arbitrator. The two sides entered arbitration after negotiations that began nearly a year ago and a mediation session did not result in an agreement acceptable to both parties.
On Monday, representatives of both parties acknowledged that the newly approved contract comes closer to offers made previously by the school board rather than the terms sought by the union.
“It is very close to the two offers previously rejected by WTA members, the second being offered by the mediator chosen by the WTA,” said school committee president Diane Chiaradio Bowdy in response to a question from The Sun.
The increases will begin with the 2022-23 fiscal year which begins in July. The three-year deal will run until 2024-25. The two parties have also agreed on the terms of a one-year contract for the current fiscal year. Under the agreement, teachers at the top echelon will receive a one-time payment of $1,000 and the 25-year longevity allowance has been set at $3,000. The teachers were working during the current school year under a contract that expired on June 30.
The new contract also adds 15 minutes to the before and after school workday and shortens the work year from 185 to 184 days.
“While we were hoping for a slightly better outcome, WTA members believe in the arbitration process and are pleased with the decision,” WTA President Colleen Saila said in a press release. “This award closes a difficult chapter, and we are grateful for the support of our Westerly community for recognizing the extraordinary efforts of our educators – especially in light of the last two years of a pandemic. We look forward to working with the school committee on our common goals for Westerly students.”
When asked if the new contract matched the previous offer made by the school committee, Saila said, “The arbitrator’s decision was fair and sufficient for our members to approve. The decision was similar, but not the same.”
The long period of negotiations was marked by teachers dressed in red attending the school committee meeting and making public calls for better deals. Some members of the school committee said they were unable to respond to union demands due to tax restrictions imposed by the city council. City council members rejected that characterization, and some complained bitterly during recent deliberations on the city and schools budget for 2022-23.
The three-year contract will have a tax impact of $4,475,005, according to an analysis released by the school district.
When asked to comment on the difficult road that led to the new contract, Chiaradio Bowdy said: “I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to this outcome and I look forward to continuing to work with our leaders, our teachers and our staff to support our kids.”