Board, union talks stall

AMHERST – The union that represents teachers for the elementary schools and middle school have reached an impasse in their contract negotiations with the School Board, and talks will go to mediation in January.

The Amherst Education Association, for Amherst’s prekindergarten to eighth-grade district, met with the board for six sessions this fall until impasse was declared Nov. 18.

Sticking points for the negotiators for the 124 teachers who work at the Clark and Wilkins elementary schools and Amherst Middle School revolved around health insurance, retirement incentives and wages for summer work.

"It seems like the board is primarily interested in concessions" from teachers, while teachers are "just concerned with keeping up with inflation," AEA President Larry Ballard said in a phone interview,

Along with offering a zero percent salary increase, he said, the board wants to increase the amount teachers pay for health insurance. Now, premium coverage ranges between 92 and 87 percent, with the monthly district share for a BlueChoice point-of-service plan at $676.57 and the employee share $58.83.

Teachers are working in the second year of a two-year agreement, which will expire at the end of the school year, on Thursday, June 30.

If mediation is unsuccessful, Ballard said, it will be the third time in six years that an agreement was not reached before the budget submission deadline.

The deadline this year is Tuesday, Jan. 12, the day before the district’s budget and bond hearing.

Teachers are not pursuing a multiyear contract, Ballard said, because of uncertainty about the so-called "Cadillac tax." In 2018, a 40 percent federal tax will hit insurance plans and related perks valued over a certain amount.

"While the stability of a multiyear agreement would normally be attractive, teachers felt that because tax penalty regulations are unclear at this point, it would not be wise to make major health insurance decisions until both parties had a clearer picture of the actual regulations," Ballard said.

Schools Superintendent Peter Warburton and School Board Chairwoman Lucienne Foulks each said they cannot talk about the negotiations. Warburton confirmed that talks had reached an impasse and mediation is scheduled for January.

Ballard said he is hopeful that a settlement will be reached through mediation.

"It’s the same mediator we used two years ago," he said, "and we were able to get a deal."

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