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Agreement to save school jobs, programs


June 27, 2013

By Chris Maza

chrism@thereminder.com

WILBRAHAM — The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee and the Hampden-Wilbraham Education Association (HWEA) reached a collective bargaining agreement that will save positions and programs that would've been cut due to a fiscal year 2014 (FY14) budget shortfall.

The HWEA represents three collective bargaining units within the district — the teachers and licensed specialists, paraprofessionals and clerical staff.

"These agreements allow the district to balance the need for quality education with the need to be fiscally prudent during difficult economic times," School Committee Chair Peter Salerno said.

While the district's FY14 budget represented an increase of 2.5 percent, that bump was not enough to maintain level services and nine teaching positions, 12 paraprofessional positions, a clerical position, an administrative position and a district wide operational support position were scheduled to be cut.

In an effort to relieve some of the budget stress, the School Committee and HWEA began negotiations and were successful in reaching a one-year pact that will save the district approximately $600,000.

According to a press release from the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, as a result of the successful negotiations, 12 "elementary related arts" positions that were to be reduced from full-time positions to 80 percent would be restored to the full-time status, as they were during the 2012-2013 school year. Elementary related arts include physical education, science, art, and music.

"I am delighted that the negotiations allowed for the restoration of these programs, which are a vital part of our overall curriculum," HWRSD Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea said.

Similar positions in the middle schools will also be restored and the agreement is expected to help the district keep class sizes in math, English and social studies reasonable at Minnechaug Regional High School.

Which positions would be restored was not outlined and a message left for O'Shea requesting further comment was not returned as of press time.

Under the new contract, teachers will receive a 1 percent cost of living raise, but will not receive previously agreed upon step increases. Teachers will also be required to take a one-half furlough day, which will take place on a scheduled professional development day so as to ensure it will not affect the academic calendar.

The cost-share arrangement for health insurance was also altered in an effort to curb health care expenses and both sides agreed to research new ways to mitigate those costs.

"It was gratifying to see the HWEA work cooperatively toward a solution that keeps teaching salaries competitive, but allows for the restoration of the most critical teaching and support positions that had previously been identified for reduction or elimination," O'Shea said.

Salerno agreed with O'Shea's statement, adding that the agreement sets the stage for more successful contract negotiations.

"I believe the agreements strengthen the partnership between the School Committee and the HWEA and build a strong foundation for the district's educational and fiscal future," he said.

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