EAST PROVIDENCE — Roughly 24 hours after the Budget Commission gave its initial approval of the pact, the East Providence Education Association Association, the teachers’ union in the city, ratified a new contract.
EPEA President Valerie Lawson announced union
membership Friday afternoon, Feb. 15, voted to approve the Tentative Agreement with the city by a 224-42 margin, representing 84.2% of the union voting in favor of the package.
The Commission, at its bi-weekly meeting Thursday, Feb. 14, supported the proposal for the first time, accepting the parameters of the deal. Once the Commission does so again, which it is expected to do at its next forum scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 28, the contract will be officially enacted and for the first time in over four years the teachers and the city will be working under a collectively bargained deal.
The contract is five years in length, including this current year, and runs through the 2017-18 school term. The teachers receive no pay increase this first term. They gain an across the board two percent increase next year. In the remaining three years, the teachers are assured of an average of one percent raises with a maximum of three percent based on the Social Security Consumer Price Index formula.
The teachers and city also settled all outstanding litigation, most of which stems back to 2008-09 when the then-City Council initiated unilateral cuts in their salaries. The sides agreed on a $258,000 figure to bring an unfair labor practice suit brought by the teachers against the city for the ’08-09 action to a close. The union also accepted a $182,000 sum intended to make whole those teaches who lost salary for being paid on a 26-week scheduled as opposed to 20 weeks.
Through all the rancor between past elected city officials and the union, East Providence teachers had slipped to the least paid of any in the state at a top-step average of $65,562, which represented an average five-percent cut in salary at the time of its implementation in ’08-09.
As most of the teachers in East Providence were top step (10 years with all accreditations, degrees and tenure), they actually took an average of a seven-percent cut due to loss of longevity and advanced degree pay. Also, at all levels of pay, often referred to as “steps,” E.P. teachers were the lowest paid, according to the union.
The latest figures available showed Tiverton teachers paid slightly better than East Providence at $67,620. In contrast, the five districts with the highest top-step salaries are all average over $75,000, topped by Westerly at an average of $77,678. Barrington, Exeter-West Greenwich, Lincoln and Narragansett follow in order. Warwick is sixth at $74,722.
As one E.P. teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “It’s a good deal for everybody. It keeps up with the rate of inflation. It’s not perfect from our perspective, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Under the new contract, a top-step teacher in the system, making around $66,000, will see a bump in salary of roughly $1,200 in Year 2 of the deal and an average minimum of $660 in the final three years. Teachers also regain four personal days lost in recent years. The days are for the duration of the contract not four per year.
One of the last sticking points in the negotiations, according to sources, was an attempt by the Commission to reduce salaries and costs involved with the system’s extracurricular offerings.
That aspect was achieved in a number of ways, including the cutting of athletic coaches salaries by 25 percent across the board and academic/club advisors salaries by 20 percent as a whole. Those cuts are the first to take effect, doing so beginning with the 2013 spring slate of activities.
The positions of athletic director and assistant athletic director took 60-percent and 40-percent reductions, respectively, from their stipends.
In addition, high school freshmen basketball was eliminated as was cheerleading for hockey and wrestling. Athletic transportation and stipends for some extracurricular activities were also nixed as part of negotiations.
It should noted prior to Thursday the union and the Commission recently announced as part of their overall negotiations they had reached an agreement on a restructured healthcare deal, which reinstates some benefits and increases the amount paid by individuals into the plan.
Teachers and most other municipal workers, excluding police and fire, are now under the same healthcare umbrella. Employee co-pay is higher as is their deductible. Some teachers dropped from the plan controversially in recent years, about 110 in number, will regain access if their spouse’s plan is not of equal value or within 10 percent of what the city offers.
As an aside, East Providence teachers do not receive retirement through the city and are not eligible for Social Security. They have long been in the state system.