The following is “Notes from the Board Table,” the regular update from Bruce Likly, chairman of the Wilton Board of Education. 

For the past few months the Board of Education has been renegotiating its contract with the Wilton Education Association (WEA). The WEA is the union that represents our teachers. I’m very pleased to report that we’ve successfully concluded our negotiations, and a new two-year contract has been ratified by both the Board and the WEA.

You may recall that when we last negotiated our WEA contract, we were unable to come to agreement and were forced into arbitration. This time, I’m happy to report that a “meeting of the minds” resulted in what I believe is a reasonable agreement that accomplishes a great deal. The contract will be posted on the district website, but a few key details include:

Cost:  Teachers will receive a 5.83-percent overall wage increase over the 2015-17 duration of the contract. This includes general wage increases, stipend adjustments and an annual “step” increase (step increases are awarded based on accrual of additional years of service – this provision has been in place for many years). Although the cost is higher than we would have preferred, it is in line with settlements reached in neighboring communities. We expect to absorb the additional costs through staffing reductions, anticipated as the result of reduced enrollment projections. I should also note that our negotiations were assisted by a representative of the Board of Finance who expressed understanding and support for the final agreement we reached.

Restructuring of Teacher Work Hours – Pilot Program:  The contract includes a one-year pilot program that, among other things, will allow Special Education Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings to take place either before or after the school day. This is very significant. Currently most PPTs take place during the school day, which is difficult for working parents and means a teacher must be pulled out of the classroom, with a substitute teacher assigned to fill in for the duration. By making teachers available to meet outside of the school day, we can reduce the number of interruptions during instructional time, better manage substitute costs and help working parents participate. In addition to the time being used for PPT meetings, this time can also be used for teacher collaboration.

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Why a two year agreement:  Under the terms of the federal Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA), the health plan we currently offer our teachers, will trigger a 40-percent excise tax liability to our budget beginning in 2018. The media generally refers to this as a “Cadillac tax,” and it has the potential to significantly impact our existing health care plan. Because the tax is likely to receive considerable attention, with a strong chance for revisions as the implementation date draws closer, we decided to negotiate a two-year contract, which will terminate in 2017 so future implications can be taken into consideration effectively. Under regular circumstances we would have favored a three-year contract, and we will certainly closely monitor the debate as it continues.

I was pleased to be directly involved in the negotiation process and to convey the deep appreciation Wilton has for our teachers. It also enabled me to reiterate the financial situation facing Wilton and the importance of doing our part to help address the town’s mil rate challenges.

One important takeaway was the underlying theme that came through during each and every negotiating session:  Our teachers are passionate about their students, and they are looking to the Board and administration to help them be even more effective. For example, we often talk about the enormous amount of time teachers have to spend complying with various state-mandates and other obstacles that take up valuable time. Going forward, superintendent Kevin Smith has committed to studying these “blockers,” and to trying to find ways to alleviate some of the distractions.

Also on the subject of fiscal issues, work is underway to develop what will eventually become our 2015-16 operating budget. Superintendent Smith is committed to ensuring that members of the community are fully engaged in the process, and he has announced a Community Conversation about the Education Budget,” scheduled for Monday, Dec. 1 at Middlebrook School at 7 p.m.. Members of the community will have the opportunity to meet in small groups with Board of Education members and administrators to share their thoughts and ideas about current budget priorities, and recommendations for moving forward. I hope you will consider attending. The evening will be an opportunity for community members to become engaged at the very beginning of the budget process, and help shape what will eventually be a $75 million-plus allocation of Wilton tax dollars.

As always, if you have questions or comments, please share them with us at BOE@Wilton,K12.CT.US. Thank you.