The Board of Education Thursday night unanimously approved concessions from teachers, a move that saves more than $600,000 next year and guarantees no teacher layoffs through 2013.
“That was our goal, to save positions and jobs which in turn helps the children,” said Beverly Jurkiewicz, president of the Education Association of Cheshire, the union representing town teachers. “People (in the membership) are so happy that they’re saving jobs of their fellow colleagues.”
The union voted 192-117 Wednesday in favor of the agreement, which would spread out next year’s negotiated 4.6 percent pay raise over two years in exchange for job security. The plan extends the union’s three-year contract, set to expire in June 2012, by one year and gives teachers raises averaging 2.3 percent in each of the next two years.
The package also includes a retirement incentive that would offer a $45,000 cash payment over three years or three years worth of medical benefits to teachers who notify the board by the end of this month of their intent to retire by the end of 2012.
Unless the Town Council votes against it, the agreement will automatically take effect in 30 days.
While the board still needs to find $800,000 in savings to balance next year’s budget, school officials said the contract revisions were crucial to getting the district through one of the toughest budget years in recent memory without the need for drastic program cuts and massive teacher layoffs.
“It would have been horrendous without the help of the teachers union to get through this year and next,” Board of Education Chairman Gerry Brittingham said after the vote.
The Town Council this week approved a $61.35 million education budget for 2011-12, an increase of $975,000 over current spending but $1.3 million less than requested by Town Manager Michael Milone.
“Without this, I don’t see how we could possibly make up that difference,” said Tony Perugini, chairman of the school board’s Finance Committee.
The agreement includes a “no-layoff clause” which protects all teachers currently on permanent contract with the school system for the next two years. It does not protect anyone hired after the agreement takes effect and does not require positions left vacant through attrition to be filled.
Brittingham said the agreement means teachers “can be spared for a couple of years from the dark cloud that is over everyone in this economy.” “This promotes workforce stability and certainly a sense of relief from the teachers,” Brittingham said.
The no-layoff provision could be waived, however, if state or non-local funding for the schools is reduced by more than five percent, said Superintendent of Schools Greg Florio.
The school board sought concessions from the teachers last year but the union resisted, citing risks involved with re-opening a contract. Jurkiewicz said the union was more open to the idea this year because more unions around the state have been agreeing to concessions.
“This is a leap of faith,” Jurkiewicz said. “We’re taking a chance and hopefully it will be beneficial. We’re optimistic that it will.”