Brunswick teachers accept wage freeze, keep step increases

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BRUNSWICK — The School Department and the teachers union on Thursday agreed to a two-year contract that includes a one-year wage freeze and a two-year moratorium on district-paid coursework.

The two-year agreement paved the way for a $32.8 million spending plan for fiscal 2011. The plan was adopted by the School Board on Wednesday.

According to Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski, the collective bargaining agreement still contains so-called step increases for teachers. The provision means the district will pay teachers $235,000 in step increases for fiscal 2011. 

The two-year moratorium on coursework is expected to save the district about $180,000 per year. Perzanoski said the savings estimates were based on past participation in the program.

The moratorium is a sidebar to the union contract, which means it won’t have to be renegotiated when the collective bargaining agreement expires. Perzanoski said the coursework program could be re-instituted if the district can pay for it after the two-year agreement expires.

Another sidebar dictates the rehiring of retired teachers. Perzanoski said he couldn’t reveal specifics of the provision until he discusses it with the School Board next week.

In addition, the second year of the entire contract will have to be negotiated in the fall because only the language is in place.

In the past, teacher contracts have been for three years. However, Perzanoski said the uncertain financial outlook prompted both sides to settle on a two-year deal with only the basic terms set for the second year.

Although the district will have to re-enter negotiations in the fall, Perzanoski said he is pleased that the union agreed to the wage freeze.

“There was a lot of hard work on both sides,” he said. “Everyone needs to take credit for it.”

The agreement means that most of the district’s bargaining units – cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, administrative secretaries, administrators and now teachers – have agreed to forgo raises for fiscal 2011.

The educational technicians union originally spurned a request to accept a wage freeze for fiscal 2011 and a moratorium on district paid courses.

However, Perzanoski said Monday that the union took a second vote and accepted those concessions. Like the teachers union, some educational technicians will receive step increases.

The proposed budget includes the elimination of 18 resource assistants, who provide students with extra help in reading and math. The layoffs represent nearly $423,000 of about $1.6 million in proposed reductions.

In addition, the district is cutting $120,000 from its technology department and more than $114,600 from its substitute teacher, overtime and supply budgets.

Six of the district’s 10 spending areas will experience reductions from current spending. Two areas will increase significantly: administration (9.6 percent) and debt service (58 percent). The latter is driven by the construction of the new elementary school.

Perzanoski said administration increased because one employee will be doing two jobs: curriculum coordinator and principal of the new Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School.

The school budget represents a 2.13 percent decrease from current spending, but still represents a 1 percent increase to the town’s property tax rate. The tax increase is driven largely by a $3.5 million revenue loss, 69 percent of which is due to a sharp cut in state education aid.

The Town Council could still ask the School Department to trim its proposed spending plan. However, during a May 3 workshop, it appeared councilors are willing to accept the school budget as proposed.

The council’s scheduled workshop on May 10 has been cancelled. It will hold a public hearing on the municipal budget May 17, followed by a vote on May 27.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the educational technicians union had rejected a 3 percent wage freeze for fiscal 2011. The union in April rejected the freeze, but later took a second vote to accept it. The new contract includes step increases for some employees.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or