(This story by Rob Wolfe was published in the Valley News on Oct. 3, 2017.)
NORWICH — Norwich School Board negotiators this week announced they had reached a “tentative” agreement with their union counterparts on a two-year contract for teachers at the Marion Cross School.
The terms of employment, which still have to be ratified by the teachers and the full School Board, include base salary increases of 1.4 percent in the first year and 1.95 percent in the second.
With step increases, that would make for a total raise of 2.75 percent in year one and 3 percent in year two.
“This was a challenging year for negotiations, largely precipitated by changes in health insurance and concurrent efforts to alleviate property tax burdens,” School Board negotiators said in an announcement of the deal, which was on the Norwich Listserv on Sunday.
A provision in the Vermont budget sought by Gov. Phil Scott has affected teacher contract negotiations all over the state, with Norwich receiving word in August that Vermont officials would be sending $37,000 less in aid for the coming school year.
That money was supposed to come out of teacher health care plans, per the budget, which called for plans statewide to include a 20 percent premium payment from teachers. Norwich teachers were paying about 16 percent of premiums under the most recent three-year contract.
In the first year of this new agreement, they still would pay 16 percent, but their share would rise to 17 percent in the following year.
“We will have to find savings in other areas to offset the difference between what the state determined we should identify as savings and what we were able to agree to in our settlement,” School Board Chairman Tom Candon said in an email on Tuesday.
The difference between an 84-16 percentage split and an 80-20 split with the teachers is roughly $6,100, Candon said.
He also noted that the savings state officials identified in Norwich were for both teachers and support staff. Negotiations with staff are ongoing.
“It was a long process but all the way through both sides stayed focused and positive with the end result being a contract that is fair,” Rick Newton, a physical education teacher at Marion Cross who served as the educators’ lead negotiator, said in an email. “We are happy with the contract and relieved that we settled.”
Teachers and School Board members took a full year to reach an agreement, board members noted in their announcement.
Statistics from the Vermont Agency of Education show that Marion Cross teachers received an average salary of $69,480 in the 2015-16 school year, compared to the state average of $57,063.
The contract ending in 2017 provided for health care deductibles of between $100 and $600 for basic medical care.
In this latest contract, the maximum out-of-pocket costs for an individual plan are $2,500, rising to $5,000 for plans with more people, Candon said, though the deal includes a significant subsidy for teachers’ deductibles.
The new agreement would create a school district-funded Health Reimbursement Account, or HRA, that requires employees to contribute the first $400 for a single plan, $800 for a parent-child or two-person plan, and $1,200 for a family plan, with the district picking up the rest of the out-of-pocket costs.
Finally, the tentative deal increases the annual payment that employees receive for not taking a health plan with the district to $1,250 from $700.
If ratified, the contract would retroactively begin on Jan. 1, 2017, and last through June 2019.