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After Two Years, Amherst Teachers and School Board Reach Agreement

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Amherst, NH –  The Amherst School Board (“Board”) and the Amherst Education Association (“AEA”) are pleased to announce they have reached agreement on a four- year collective bargaining agreement effective July 1, 2018, subject to approval of cost items by Amherst voters this March.

Amherst PreK-8 teachers have been working under an expired agreement for two years, and this four-year agreement provides stability for teachers, the Amherst School District and taxpayers, allowing all stakeholders to better plan for the future.

To balance the needs of teachers and taxpayers, concessions were made on health insurance with the greatest concessions coming from the costliest health plan. The health insurance cost sharing arrangement will shift more of the premiums towards teachers each year, with the costliest plan shifting at a higher rate than less expensive plans – essentially, teachers who choose the more expensive plan will pay more for that plan.

The new agreement also addresses Board and AEA concerns about retirement. A scaled approach to limit the District’s long-term retirement obligations will ultimately eliminate costs associated with Section 14.4 of the previous agreement. Over time, the retirement model will shift away from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, yielding significant savings for the District.

Teachers who have not been paid according to experience for the past two years due to an expired collective bargaining agreement will have their experience steps corrected over the first two years of the agreement in exchange for a 0% cost of living adjustment during those two years, followed by two years of a step plus a 2% cost of living adjustment. Teachers at the top of the salary scale who did not receive cost of living adjustments in four of the previous five years will see increases of 3% in the first two years and 2.8% in the second two years of the agreement.

This agreement affirms the commitment of the Board and the AEA to providing educators with the development, resources and support needed to ensure the success of every student. This also means attracting, developing and retaining quality educators and staff who share our commitment to excellence in teaching as outlined in the SAU 39 Strategic Plan, and retaining Amherst’s ability to ensure that every teacher in the classroom is qualified, caring and committed.

Throughout the past few months, negotiations have been productive, with the Board and AEA able to reach mutual goals through a collaborative process. Both teachers and Board members alike are deeply committed to providing Amherst students with a high-quality education and allowing every student to succeed. The Board and AEA believe this new agreement will help achieve these goals while remaining fiscally responsible.

The tentative agreement reached by Board and AEA negotiating teams in December has already been ratified by teachers and the full school board, and will be presented to voters for approval as part of the Amherst School District budget process for the 2018-2019 school year.

Amherst Education Association Correcting Mis-Information About Amherst Schools

A statement from the Amherst Education Association:

As you may be aware, there have been several presentations at Amherst School Board meetings and in other public venues in recent months from groups and individuals about public education in Amherst. 

The professional educators of the Amherst Education Association believe that many points addressed in such presentations have been inaccurate or misleading, which is why approximately 70 teachers attended the November Amherst School Board meeting to share an educator’s viewpoint.

Among our concerns are the following:

1. Fiscal data being presented to the public is being used in inaccurate or misleading ways.

2. Standardized test results should not be the sole measure of academic quality.

3. The Amherst School Board is already engaged in much of the work these presentations have said the Board should be doing. This work is conducted openly in public sessions with published agendas and minutes. 

4. Statements are being made about the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement as if math teachers, school nurses, English teachers, librarians, art and music teachers, social studies teachers and science teachers and all of our colleagues are the biggest problem faced by the community. Many of these assertions have been made using inaccurate or misleading information.

We firmly believe that making teachers the problem is a misguided approach. As a group of committed professional educators, we will not stand for people coming before the school board and disrespecting the teachers of Amherst who have devoted our careers toward improving our school district and the quality of education for our students.

If the goal is to make Amherst one of the best school districts in the state, a goal we wholeheartedly support, the most productive way to make that happen is to work with teachers, not against them.

The next Amherst School Board meeting is Thursday, December 17th at 6:00 pm in the Souhegan High School learning common – parents and community members who support public education in Amherst are encouraged to attend!

Featured image by Rocksee (Flickr CC)

The Amherst School Board Takes To Media Instead Of Negotiating With Amherst Education Association

The Amherst Education Association is troubled that the Amherst School Board has chosen to conduct negotiations through the media and press releases rather than face-to-face — something the AEA believes to be counterproductive and not in the best interests of teachers, the school district, or the community.

School Board Press Release

Reluctantly, the AEA feels compelled to respond to the three specific points addressed in the Board’s press release: JY Insurance, Reduction In Force, and the 175-Day School Calendar.

JY Insurance:

The AEA believes the most effective way to address health care cost increases would have been to shop for alternative insurance carriers. Eliminating the JY insurance plan was projected to save approximately one-tenth of one percent (.001) on the proposed 2014 budget. Although the AEA suggested on several occasions that the Board seek bids from other health insurance carriers, the Board would not entertain this option, which the AEA believes could produce significant savings for teachers and taxpayers alike.

Reduction In Force:

The AEA is not opposed to teacher performance being included as a factor in layoffs (reduction in force), but asked that performance be determined using criteria that could be objectively measured and assessed. The Board did not provide one single objectively measurable teacher performance criterion.

175-Day School Calendar:

A 175-day calendar was considered by the AEA. Despite teacher concerns over the lack of any specific schedule detailing how the additional time in the school day would be utilized and concerns over the educational impact, teachers were willing to implement the untested idea of the 175-day calendar on a trial basis at no cost to the district. It should be noted that the SAU’s projections show implementation of the 175 day calendar to be more costly than remaining with the traditional 180-day calendar used by almost all NH school districts.

Amherst’s teachers recognize that increases in costs to health insurance, pension costs downshifted to cities and towns by the NH Legislature, and a significant reduction in state education aid are a part of the economic landscape that influence these negotiations. In recognition of these external financial pressures, the AEA proposed a contract settlement that would have led to a reduction in take-home pay for many educators without impacting the quality of education provided to our students. The AEA remains deeply committed to the success of every child and to settling a fair contract.

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The Amherst Education Association represents Amherst School District Teachers at Clark, Wilkins, and Amherst Middle School, covering grades PreK through 8.

Amherst School Board and Teachers Did Not Settle Contract

The power of collective bargaining has been proven time and time again, so it is sad to hear that the Amherst School Board is unwilling to settle with the Amherst Education Association.

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The Amherst Education Association and the Amherst School Board were not able to reach a settlement on a contract before the January 8th SB2 budget submission deadline. As a result, Amherst PreK-8 teachers will be working without the stabilizing influence of a contract for the third time in the past nine years.

The Amherst Education Association has already voiced significant concerns over the Board’s proposed 2014 budget, which relies on unprecedented reductions in teaching staff and increases in class size based on fiscal reasons rather than educational policy. Coupled with the failure to settle a contract, the AEA feels the Board was not willing to explore any options that would best serve the Amherst voters and the teachers that serve them.

Will Amherst follow the same path as other districts (notably Manchester) and move towards larger class sizes? What will happen to the district’s high ranking among NH schools? Amherst teachers strongly believe increased class sizes and fewer teachers are not in the best interest of Amherst’s PreK-8 students.

With hope, the Amherst Education Association and the Amherst School Board can resolve these issues before people are forced out and Amherst students’ learning environment is negatively impacted.

The Amherst Education Association represents Amherst School District teachers at Clark, Wilkins and Amherst Middle School, covering grades Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade.

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