Milford teachers’ contract stalls on healthcare School Board rejects factfinder’s report

MILFORD – The School Board voted unanimously Monday night to reject a factfinder’s recommendation that would have ended a contract negotiation stalemate with the Milford Teachers Association.

The sticking point turned out to be health insurance premium coverage for teachers hired after the agreement.

The board wants to create a Group 3 of new employees who would have premium coverage of 80 percent, instead of 85 percent.

The factfinder recommended that the board drop that proposal and the teachers association drop its proposal for a 2.25 percent cost of living adjustment in the contract’s third year.

Last week, the teachers agreed unanimously to accept the nonbinding recommendations.

School Board members contend the third tier is needed to control the cost of health insurance.

Because it would affect teachers who have not yet been hired, it is “not a significant issue with current employees,” School Board Chairman Paul Dargie said Monday, Feb. 24.

Teachers say that is unfair.

Asking people who do the same job to have a different level of health benefits “does impact how they feel,” Paula Durand, one of the teachers’ negotiators told the board.

The two sides have been negotiating since last August and in December reached an impasse on the two issues. There was agreement on wage increases of 1.5 percent and 2 percent for Years 1 and 2.

The teachers chose to go to fact-finding, and the factfinder issued her report Feb. 7, recommending that the board withdraw the third tier proposal and teachers withdraw their proposal for the added quarter of a percent wage increase in the third year and accept the board’s proposal of 2 percent.

Members of the teachers’ negotiating team attended the special board meeting Feb. 24, including Suzanne Schedin, chief teachers’ negotiator and vice president of the Milford Teachers Association. She later said she was very disappointed with the board’s decision.

On Feb. 17, she said, association members met and agreed 100 percent with the factfinder’s recommendations.

Factfinder Bonnie MacSpiritt compared school wages, hours and conditions of Milford and its bordering communities of Amherst, Brookline, Hollis, Hollis-Brookline and Mont Vernon.

Before the board voted, Peter Bragdon, the vice chairman, called Milford’s teachers’ salaries “very attractive.”

In the midst of a recession, he said, the board settled on a four-year contract that provided generous salary increases “while hundreds of Milford residents were out of work, and hundreds of Milford residents are still out of work.

“We have one of the most competitive salary structures in the region,” Bragdon said.

Milford’s teacher salary schedule for 2012-13, starts in the first year of employment with $39,917 for a bachelor’s, and the contract schedule ends after 15 years of service, and an master’s and 30 credits with $76,237.

In 2013, the School Board and teachers negotiated a one-year agreement that continues that schedule and that will expire on June 30.

Last week, Schedin told The Cabinet that more than half the teachers are not on the step schedule, so they are getting no salary increase this year, while they are shouldering an increase in health insurance premiums.

There are approximately 218 members of the bargaining unit.

According to state law, if either party rejects the factfinder’s recommendations, the findings and recommendations go to voters at the next annual meeting. However, it is too late for an article to be added to the ballot for this year’s March election.

The board and the teachers could decide to go back to the negotiating table or the board could petition superior court for a special meeting.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100, ext. 304.