Update 11:30 a.m.:
Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross, chairperson of the Board of Education, and the Darien Public Schools administration early Tuesday morning released a copy of the slide presentation she gave to the Representative Town Meeting on Monday evening. It is attached to this article.
The Representative Town Meeting on Monday evening approved well over a quarter of the Darien town budget—not only for this coming fiscal year, but for each of the two fiscal years after that—in one vote approving the teacher's contract.
The vote was 74-4, with 3 abstentions, but despite the overwhelming vote to approve, the discussion was marked by little enthusiasm for the contract, which will help drive growth in the town budget and which could increase taxes.
Lois Schneider, chairman of the RTM Education Committee, briefly mentioned that members of her committee wanted to support the town's teachers, but she emphasized features of the contract that would save the town money, including the adding of smaller annual "step" increases in the wage schedule that would mean smaller raises for some teachers, and the adoption of health savings plans rather than the traditional preferred provider organizations (PPOs).
Other supporters of the contract said they thought the town was unlikely to do better if it rejected the proposal. A rejection by the RTM would have meant binding arbitration.
Liz Mao, chairman of the Board of Finance, told the RTM: "We [the Board of Finance] reviewed the terms, and it is a realistic proposal. [...] We could end up with a lot worse than what we have now" if the contract decision was made by arbitrators, she said.
If the RTM rejected the contract and if arbitration then resulted in a new contract that the Representative Town Meeting also didn't like, a two-thirds vote of the RTM to reject the second version would result in the matter being kicked back to arbitrators again, Board of Education Chairman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross told the RTM. In that case, the arbitrators' decision would be final, she said.
As a whole, the 460 employees covered by the Darien Education Association contract would be paid an estimated 1.25 percent more in the first year of the contract, and another 2.02 percent more in the second year, although the wage increases for each of those years wouldn't start until each fiscal year was half-way through. The raises for the third fiscal year, with an overall increase of 3.36 percent at the beginning of the third fiscal year on July 1, 2014.
These percentages apply to all teacher wages as a whole, not to individual teachers, who will receive different percentages depending on what steps they are at. The vast majority of members of the union are teachers, although the union represents all workers in Darien Public Schools—except certain administrators—who are certified by the state Department of Education.
Under other provisions of the new contract, almost the entire teachers corps will move from traditional PPO insurance into health savings accounts starting July 1 of this year.
Hagerty-Ross pointed out that Darien has one of the lowest health insurance costs of any school district in the state because the town has aggressively shopped for better prices, with the cooperation of the teachers union.
The town also pays a lower percentage of health care insurance premiums than do other towns, Hagerty Ross pointed out. In Darien, teachers will pay 17 to 19 percent of the cost of their premiums. Under the new Greenwich teachers contract, the teachers' share is 10 to 12 percent. In Weston, it's 13 to 14 percent; in Wilton, it's 14 to 16 percent.
RTM members who voiced opposition to the contract included Jim Cameron of District 4, who pointed out how short a teacher's school year is and the large number of paid sick days that teachers have: 15, in addition to five personal days.
"This is a wonderful contract, but I think the town cannot afford it," he said. "Everybody has taken a hit except the Board of Education."
Edward Tierney, an RTM member from District 1, said he worried about the fiscal impact of the 3 percent wage increase in the third year as well as the rising cost of health insurance—with or without health savings accounts. He said he'd rather take his chances in arbitration than approve a teachers contract that would add even more spending pressure to future budgets.
Jack Davis, an RTM member from District 5, said the contract appeared to be "the best that we can get right now." He pointed out that with retirements and other teachers who might leave Darien Public Schools for one reason or another, the percentage wage increases should be viewed as a maximum, not a likely increase in the schools budget.
The schools budget takes up about 74 percent of the town budget, and about 85 percent of the schools budget is personnel costs, Hagerty-Ross said. Of that, about half is covered by the contract, said Heather Shea, a member of the Board of Education. That means the cost of the wages covered by the contract is still more than the entire town budget that is outside Darien Public Schools.