By PAUL J. SPETRINI
After a long and arduous negotiating process that often spilled over in public and on editorial pages across the area, the North Kingstown School Committee and its Educational Support Professionals union finally reached a new three-year contract Tuesday night.
The new deal, which will save the school district an estimate $1,760,000, does not include or settle the issue of the controversial outsourcing of 26 custodial employees in the district, a source of great debate between the two sides which will ultimately be played out in the courts.
North Kingstown Superintendent Dr. Philip Auger announced the deal, which runs from July 1, 2012-June 30th, 2015, at Tuesday night’s school committee meeting.
“This has been a very long process and has been something that’s been in the news quite a bit over the past two years,” he said. “It’s no secret that there’s been a lot of contentiousness between the school committee and ESP over particularly the privatization of our custodial staff. At this point, we’ve gotten to a point where this is not an agreement that even includes that piece of the situation.
We have agreed that this will continue to be something we work on in court and though news of that will be forthcoming, this particular agreement tonight includes all of those areas other than the custodial issue and once we were able to get to the point of being able to separate those two items, it became clear that there was a lot that we could agree on and things started happening rather quickly.”
The new contract calls for a number of concessions from the union, most notably an estimated $762,000 in savings for the district thanks to a decision to increase the health co-share employees in the district pay from four percent to 15 percent. Another major chunk, or a total of $552,000, comes from the shifting of nine full-time paraprofessional positions to 18 part-time positions.
In addition, the district expects to save $354,000 with the elimination of health care coverage for employees who work less than 30 hours per week and another $106,000 with the elimination of paid life insurance paid by the district.
On the plus side for the union, district employees will see a salary increase of 0.1 percent in fiscal year 2014 and 0.75 percent in fiscal year 2015 in a move that is expected to cost the department an estimated $107,000.
Other benefits for the ESP include an increase in severance payout at retirement from two weeks to four weeks for employees, a move likely to cost a total of $9,000 over the life of the contract, and the cap for professional development has increased to $10,000 from $8,000.
ESP employees will also see an increase in tuition reimbursement from $400 per course to $600 and an increase in professional development stipends from $200 to $350. Both moves are expected to cost $6,000 over the life of the contract.
“This has been a very long negotiation,” said school committee member Kim Page. “I think that myself and Mary Anne Caroll were the only two people that started with the negotiations and ended with the negotiations. We changed superintendents, we changed people in the negotiating team, we have changed school committees in between there so this has been a very difficult process, I would easily say it was the most difficult thing we have had to do in my time on the school committee so I am very glad that we are here today to take a vote on a contract.”
The contract, which was approved unanimously, also settled the issue of outsourcing the district’s cafeteria workers for at least the next three years, a point school committee member Bill Mudge was quick to point out Tuesday.
“We care about the staff, we care about the people who work for us,” Mudge said. “I hope this contract is going to satisfy your particular needs.”