NORTH SMITHFIELD – The Town Council has ratified a three year contract between the North Smithfield Teacher’s Association and the School Committee that will see a two percent raise each year for top step teachers, and no raise for the remaining union educators.
The agreement, retroactive to July 1 of this year, was approved in a 4-1 vote Monday night, with Councilor Paul Vadenais casting the only dissent.
Citing his experience working on contracts of the past, Vadenais questioned the decision to provide no salary increase for teachers on steps 1 through 10, the plan to reinstate vision coverage, and whether or not the district will be able to afford the planned raises for Step 11 teachers in future budget cycles.
“This is going to determine what goes on going forward in the next few years,” Vadenais said. “It’s going to blow the numbers out of the water. Those numbers will not be sustainable.”
According to a fiscal impact statement on the new agreement, new spending on salaries and benefits will cost $235,736 in the first year, increasing to $291,523 in the third year under the current staff makeup.
Committee member Paul Jones, who was the lead negotiator for the deal, said that of the district’s 154 teachers, 114 are currently on the top step.
“There’s incentive for them to stay and work their way through the ranks,” Jones said. “We felt this was going to be the most fair for the most people.”
Vadenais said that among teachers statewide, North Smithfield pays in the lower third on salaries.
“If we don’t adjust those salaries we won’t be able to hire people,” he said. “I understand the dynamics of the contract. Personally, I think it’s a mistake not to address those steps.”
But Supt. Michael St. Jean said that the district has not had trouble hiring or retaining teachers.
“It’s a good environment, it’s a good community and we don’t face attrition with our new teachers,” St. Jean said. “They do want to stay with us.”
Jones did agree that future budget cycles could be a concern with the planned raises. When existing step increases are factored in, North Smithfield will be paying $506,694 more by 2024 to meet benefit and salary obligations.
“There is that fear,” he said. “We should be talking more about how to actively address the situations before they unfold.”
The School Committee member said he believes that the best thing to do would be to address the problem of out of district tuitions, which cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, and could go, “a long way toward lessening the fiscal impact.”
“We are taking money out of the pockets of students that live here,” Jones said.
St. Jean said that there are currently around 100 students from North Smithfield attending charter schools or enrolled in Career and Technical Education programs offered elsewhere, and 17 in need of high cost out of district special education.
Seven students from other towns, meanwhile, enrolled in CTE programs in North Smithfield last year, and the superintendent said the district is currently on track to have 11 or 12 in the upcoming school year.
On the subject of vision coverage, Vadenais noted that it had been eliminated from a previous contract with the union because it was found not to offer much for the expense.
“There’s no value in that for what we’re paying for it, and what the benefit is,” Vadenais said.
St. Jean said that while he was not certain of the number, adding vision coverage was only a minor expense.
The councilor asked if the board could hold off on voting to get more information, but Jones made a case for moving forward.
“We can furnish those numbers to you,” Jones said. “I don’t know where it would wind up changing anything with the contract itself. At the end of the day, I do think that this is a fair contract for the teachers. I think it’s a good contract for the teachers, and while I recognize that perhaps you would like to see some additional information, I don’t see how this information would substantially change anything about the contract.”
“If I was a teacher, I don’t think I’d feel very comfortable having the contract delayed that much more for information,” he added.
The complete contract, in effect through June 30, 2024, can be found here.