New contract for Amherst teachers

AMHERST – A gradual elimination of controversial retirement payouts to Amherst teachers is part of a new four-year pact between the teachers’ union and the school board.

The Amherst elementary and middle school teachers have been working under an expired agreement for two years, and the “retirement severance” had been a major sticking point. The board had said the payouts would make the district liable for more than $10 million if every teacher retired by age 65, and the payouts inhibit the natural rate of attrition. The union maintained that the money made up for the fact Amherst doesn’t cover health insurance for teachers who leave.

The new contract calls for that retirement benefit to shift into a defined contribution plan, which is similar to a shift from a pension plan model into a 401k model, as has happened in private industry in recent years.

Teachers will still have their state pension.

“I’m very happy we have something,” said Larry Ballard, president of the Amherst Education Association, in a phone interview, who said the new agreement includes “pretty fair compromises.”

The AEA also made concessions on health insurance, with teachers paying more of their premiums each year, especially for the costliest health plan.

According to a joint press release from the AEA and the school district, teachers will have their step pay corrected over the first two years of the agreement in exchange for no cost-of-living adjustments, followed by two years of a step increase plus a 2 percent cost-of-living increase.

Teachers at the top of the salary scale who did not receive cost-of-living adjustments in four of the previous five years will see increases of 3 percent in the first two years and 2.8 percent in the second two years of the agreement.

The agreement already has been ratified by both sides and was scheduled to be announced at the Wednesday school budget hearing. Voters have to approve the contract in March.

The Amherst Education Association covers about 129 teachers in the district, which includes Clark-Wilkins School and Amherst Middle School.

“This agreement affirms the commitment of the Board and the AEA to providing educators with the development, resources and support needed to ensure the success of every student,” according to the press release. “This also means attracting, developing and retaining quality educators and staff who share our commitment to excellence in teaching as outlined in the SAU 39 Strategic Plan, and retaining Amherst’s ability to ensure that every teacher in the classroom is qualified, caring and committed.”

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