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New Contract for West Hartford Teachers Includes Small Wage Increases, Changes to Sick Leave Benefits

The Board of Education and the West Hartford Teachers Association reached a negotiated agreement on wages, health insurance, tuition reimbursement, and sick leave, avoiding arbitration.

By a vote of 4-0 with two abstentions, on Tuesday night the Board of Education ratified its negotiated agreement with the West Hartford Education Association (WHEA) for the period of July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2016.

Board members Bruce Putterman, Elin Katz, Naogan Ma, and Terry Schmitt voted in favor of the three-year agreement. Mark Zydanowicz and Jay Sarzen, both of whom recently joined the board, abstained from voting. Mark Overmyer-Velazquez was absent.

“We reached an agreement that I think is an excellent one for the town, for the future, for the teachers,” Schmitt said, pointing out that the two sides came to an "economically viable and professionally successful" agreement without holding any meetings that lasted until 4 a.m.

The negotiations were completed on Dec. 7.

Executive Director of Human Resources Rick Ledwith informed the board that the teachers had formally ratified the contract on Monday, after several days of voting, and said the teachers deserved credit for setting a "collaborative tone early in the process."

Under the new agreement, wages will increase in 2013-2014 by step movement and 2 percent for teachers on top step, in 2014-2015 there will be a 2 percent general wage increase but no step movement, and in 2015-2015 there will be step movement and 1.8 percent increase for teachers on the top step.

Director of Finance and Planning Chip Ward said the settlement was "very manageable to the district" and contains reasonable increases.

The structure of "steps" within the district is also modified under the new contract, with the total number of levels decreasing by the third year from 14 to 12, with an adjustment to the mid-level steps to encourage teachers to remain in West Hartford.

In year three, the total impact of step movement and the 1.8 increase could be as high as 3.44 percent, Ward said, but that assumes zero turnover which is unrealistic.

Plan design changes for health insurance will yield approximately 5 percent savings, but it is the revisions to the sick pay plans that will result in significant long-term savings for West Hartford taxpayers, Ledwith said.

Under the new contract, employees hired after July 1, 2013 will no longer be eligible for sick leave payment at retirement. The current contract stipulates payments of 50 percent of unused sick time up to 45 day maximum upon retirement.

Instead, employees hired after July 1, 2013 will be eligible for a longevity payment of $250 each year worked beyond 20 years and $650 each year worked beyond 25 years. To be eligible for the longevity payment, time worked with West Hartford Public Schools must be continuous.

"This change literally saves us millions of dollars in future years, millions of dollars for future taxpayers," Ledwith said.

On the health insurance portion of the contract, contributions for employees will increase from 17.5 percent to 19.5 percent for the PPO over three years, from 15.5 percent to 19 percent for the HMO over three years, and from 14.5 percent to 16.5 percent for the HSA over three years.

Increases have also been negotiated in co-pays for office visits (from $20 to $25), in-patient hospital stays co-pay (from $150 to $200), and out-patient hospital visits (from $50 to $150). Prescription drugs co-pays will increase from $5/$20/$35 to $10/$25/$40 for retail with mandatory mail-order for maintenance drugs and respective $20/$50/$80 co-pays.

Under the new contract, the tuition reimbursement fund has been increased from $35,000 to $45,000 and individual annual reimbursement will increase from $750 to $800.

"It just feels so much better to say we had a negotiated settlement rather than an arbitrated settlement," Board Chair Bruce Putterman said, expressing his support for the new contract.

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