EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 21, 2013

Windham has teacher contract deal

By John Toole

---- — WINDHAM — A new contract for teachers is bound for voters following approval this week from the School Board and ratification by the union.

Teachers overwhelmingly supported the two-year deal, 168-6, at their ratification meeting Wednesday.

“That is a testament to this being a fair contract,” union spokesman Ryan O’Connor said.

The School Board approved the contract, 4-0, during a meeting Thursday night.

School Board Chairman Mike Joanis said he abstained because his wife is a teacher at Windham High, but he will join with the rest of the board in recommending voters approve the pact.

Voters will be able to discuss the contract during the school deliberative session Feb. 7.

The contract will be on the Town Meeting ballot on March 11.

School Board member Jerome Rekart told colleagues teachers and the board came together to get a fair deal for the district’s excellent educators.

“But this also does so in an economically responsible manner,” Rekart said.

The contract calls for insurance concessions from the district’s 200 teachers.

Prescription drug co-pays will be more in line with the private sector, Rekart said.

But teachers also will recover some of the step increases missed due to a lack of a new contract the past couple of years, he said.

First-year costs are estimated at about $488,000. Second-year costs are about $505,000.

The contract emerged from mediation after an impasse this fall.

School Board member Denis Senibaldi credited Rekart with helping to convince teachers to accept the two-year package that came out of an after-midnight bargaining session two weeks ago.

O’Connor said at the time the session had many “twists and turns,” while School Board member Michelle Farrell, who was at the table, said neither side wanted to give up.

“I’m sure the teachers are happy and I’m sure the town will be happy,” Senibaldi said. “Hopefully, we can move forward and get this passed in March.”

Before mediation, teachers staged roadside demonstrations, encouraging community support.

A banner they displayed read, “Support Education, Support Teachers, 3.11.14.”

Teachers have struggled to get a deal for several years.

Three years ago, mediation failed to produce a new contract.

Two years ago, a deal was reached, but too late to get on the ballot for Town Meeting. An effort by teachers to put money aside in anticipation of a contract saw the budget rejected by voters.

This year, voters rejected a three-year deal for teachers.

Both sides remained positive through the latest round of talks.

Teachers stressed they didn’t want to do anything to distract from students getting an education. School Board members praised teachers for their conduct.