MIDDLEBURY — Patricia J. Hannaford Career Center (PHCC) teachers will return to work this fall with the security of a new, three-year contract that requires them to pay a greater proportion of their health care premiums but assures them some modest wage increases.
Fred Baser, lead negotiator of the PHCC board, confirmed details of the new three-year pact on Monday. The agreement was formally ratified by the full career center board on July 20, and by teachers back in June. It covers 22 teachers.
The PHCC’s 13 career and technical education programs draw students from the 17 towns in the Addison Central, Addison Northeast and Addison Northwest supervisory unions.
Board and teachers’ union representatives gave high marks to the new contract and praised the process through which the deal was struck. It was a deal hammered out in less than 10 meetings during a span of around six months, according to Baser.
“The process was respectful and amicable,” Baser said. “There was openness and a warm attitude.”
Marie Eddy, PHCC guidance coordinator and lead negotiator for the teachers, agreed.
“I’m very pleased we were able to buck the trend of what has been going on throughout the state,” Eddy said, referring to recent negotiation impasses and talk of strikes in other school districts, including at the Bristol-area ANeSU.
The previous three-year contract expired June 30. Terms of that deal required teachers to pay 10 percent of their health insurance policy premiums. The new contract requires teachers to pay 12 percent of the premiums in year one; and 13 percent during each of the following two years.
Health care coverage will still be provided through the Vermont School Boards Association under a Blue Cross-Blue Shield policy, Baser noted.
While teachers made some concessions on health insurance, they made some gains on the salary front.
The new contract provides for step increases and a 1-percent increase in base pay for teachers during the first year of the contract; a 1.5-percent increase in year two; and a 2-percent increase in the final year.
Eddy said these adjustments amount to a little less than 3-percent in “new money” required for salaries during the first year of the contract, and just over 3 percent in new money needed for salaries in each of the remaining two years of the pact.
“We held our ground on some things we felt very strongly about, and were able to compromise,” Eddy said.
Baser noted the newly contracted 2011-2012 raise is well within the salary constraints of the PHCC spending plan of $3,343,333 approved by county voters on Town Meeting Day. He said the board wanted to be mindful of balancing the teachers’ and school’s interests with those of the county’s taxpayers, many of whom continue to struggle in a sluggish economy.
“Our concern was how this (contract) might impact the budget going forward, given the economic times we are moving in,” Baser said. “There was a recognition on everyone’s part that times are tough.”
But the PHCC appears poised to better deal with education funding challenges than most other public schools. That’s because enrollment at the PHCC has been on an up-tick, which in turn translates into more per-pupil state aid to help cover salary increase in this latest contract. Enrolment is up 16 full-time-equivalent students, for a total of 178. This surge has helped reduce the local assessment — the “tuition rate” charged to sending towns for their students at PHCC — to $8,656, down 15 percent from the $10,180 rate charged in 2010-2011.
Enrollment at the state’s technical centers is calculated based on a six-semester average.
This was only the second contract negotiated for PHCC teachers as a separate entity under the auspices of the Middlebury Educators Association. Career Center teachers previously negotiated as part of the UD-3 school district, which includes Middlebury Union middle and high schools.
“To me, it was a breath of fresh air,” Baser said of negotiations with the PHCC teachers, conducted without legal counsel. “Hopefully, this establishes a really good pattern for the future.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.