Two years late, Hudson has teacher contract

HUDSON-The three-year contract between the Hudson City School District and the Hudson Teachers Association signed last month was reached after two years of negotiation and only concluded with the help of a professional mediator.

The problem now is figuring out how to pay for the contract, which is retroactive to July 2011. Increases that normally would have been paid during the time teachers worked without a contract will be due starting this July, shortly after the new school district budget takes effect. School budget increases are capped by state law at 2% unless approved by at least 60% of voters.

“The mediator listened to both sides. We found common ground,” said district Superintendent Maria Suttmeier. “Now the district needs to fund this new memorandum of agreement.”

Jack Beyer, president of the Hudson teacher’s union, said in a statement this week, “The Hudson Teachers Association is glad that we finally reached an agreement with the Hudson City School District.”

School board President Peter Merante, the district’s primary negotiator, said the sides “were close to many deals but it didn’t happen.” He added that “the administration is happy. If the agreement didn’t get approval, the district would have lost .5 million dollars in state aid because the district would not have had a plan in place for teacher evaluation.”

Annual teacher performance reviews, a new state mandate, have a January 15 compliance deadline.

In addition to the superintendent and board president, the administration’s negotiation team included School Board Member Kelly Frank, and the school district’s attorney, Stuart Waxman. Before his retirement June 30, former Superintendent Jack Howe also participated.

Mr. Beyer was joined at his side of the bargaining table by 8 to 10 senior teachers and Pamela Melville, an attorney and labor relations specialist with NYSUT.

Ms. Melville, in a phone conversation this week, praised the teachers’ bargaining team and called Mr. Beyer an excellent leader. “He’s very level headed. He evaluates and looks for a reasonable solution.”

“It was a huge thing that HTA did. They held strong. It was a joy to work with them,” she said.

In a prepared statement Ms. Melville criticized the district, calling it “poorly managed,” and saying the district had not financially planned or addressed issues in a timely fashion.

She said she hopes the district will be able to save money under the retirement incentive negotiated in the contract.  “We hope that the district puts the money in an unreserved account to build up savings it should have had all along. That is our expectation and explains in part why we did not negotiate annual increases for any year of the contract.”

The administration hopes that a significant number of its many senior teachers will take a $20,000 retirement incentive good through December 31, which requires an irrevocable letter of resignation effective June 30, 2013. After that the incentive will drop to $15,000, a figure that is higher than what was on offer before the agreement.

A new Hudson teacher earns $41,698, while the most senior teacher earns over $87,000. The new contract does not grant annual salary increases, but it does add three new salary step levels for the most senior teachers, bringing the maximum base salary up to $87,087. There are now 27 steps. Stipends, which ranged from $2,616 to $4,847 for department chairs and grade chairs for K – 6th grade, all went up $1,250.

The agreementalso calls for teacher contributions to health insurance to rise incrementally from 10% to 12% by January 2014. And the administration has agreed to a pilot program to try shortening the school year by one day to 182 days.

The district and HTA attended three mediation sessions, each of which lasted about six hours and involved a mediator alternately visiting each group in their designated rooms.

During the negotiation period the mediator was involved with 16 different groups, a situation that prolonged the process.

The last contract expired June 30, 2011. The new three year contract has a start date of July 1, 2011 and covers the time spent in negotiation.

The negotiation process will begin again next July.

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