NEWTOWN >> In an 7-2 vote, the Council Rock School Board on May 21 approved a contract extension with the Council Rock Education Association (CREA) and an amended contract agreement with the Council Rock Administrators Association (CRAA) that will result in substantial savings to the district over the next 18 months.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Fraser announced the extension and contract amendment on May 19 in a letter to the community.
The negotiated concessions are the latest steps being taken by the district to address a substantial budget deficit for the 2020-21 school year and beyond created by the Covid-19 pandemic and a corresponding loss of revenue due to a decrease in earned income and real estate transfer taxes.
According to Fraser, the district has also suspended its capital plan and made cuts, including in the areas of instructional technology and textbooks, to address the budget crisis.
“Today we announce another important layer of addressing the budget deficit, as the CREA tentative agreement extends the current contract by one year, through June 30, 2022,” said Fraser.
The CREA membership and the Board of School Directors both voted to approve the changes on May 21.
The salary concessions made by CREA will result in a total approximate savings of $4.2 million, including $2.3 million in the 2020-21 school year and $1.9 million in the 2021-22 school year.
The agreement calls for an 18-month freeze on all horizontal and step (years of service) movement from the end of the 2019-20 school year, while a .5 percent increase will be made to the current salary matrix for both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.
In addition to the salary concessions, the contractually-scheduled increases to employee benefits premium shares will rise to 16 and 7 percent, respectively, for the non-buy up plan options from the previous thresholds of 15 and 6 percent.
The teacher work year also will be abbreviated by one day from 190 to 189 days, and members will be permitted to roll over two unused family illness days at the end of the 2019-20 school year.
The CRAA concessions will join those of the Superintendent of Schools, Assistant Superintendent, Director of Business Adminismtration, and the Director of Human Resources and will result in a total approximate savings of $407,000 ($211,000 in the 2020-21 school year and $196,000 in the 2021-22 school year). The agreement calls for an 18-month salary freeze through Dec. 31, 2021.
During the 18-month period, all administrators’ salaries will remain at the rates in effect during the 2019-20 school year, said Fraser.
The agreements maintain the amounts the employee health insurance contributions at 15 percent and 6 percent, respectively, for the non-buy up plan options.
In addition, the Council Rock Educational Support Professional group (CRESPA) contractually does not include any step (years of service) movement increases for the 2020-21 school year, which previously resulted in substantial savings.
“These salary concessions are a recognition of both the current and future difficulties facing the district and the community,” said Fraser. “The willingness of all CRSD employees to make these salary concessions during this difficult time is a testament to their dedication and commitment to the district and our students.”
“I’d like to add my thanks to CREA and CRAA for taking this action,” said board member Marianne McKee. “It speaks to their commitment to education, to children and to the community at large. I just want them to know that it’s sincerely appreciated.”
Board member Mark Byelich expressed appreciation for the concessions, but voiced concern that it may not be enough. “We still may have significant issues ahead of us,” he said, asking the superintendent if the district can go back later and renegotiate again.
“Yes, we can,” said Fraser. “There would be an opportunity for those to come up again,” he said of the agreements.
Byelich also asked whether there is any belief among the union members that the amended and extended contracts would avoid any kind of furloughs in the future.
“I’m pretty sure that with these concessions, with administrative concessions, with the reductions that we’re making and a tax increase ... I am reasonably optimistic that we will not need to furlough anyone,” said Fraser.
After listening to the response, Byelich announced that he would be voting against the amendments.
“While I greatly appreciate the concessions, the immediacy and all the hard work that was done, I’m just afraid it’s not going to be enough and that there may be a false sense of security among the employees. I hope I’m completely wrong with our projections, but just for me I’m not comfortable with that. This has nothing to do with the members of the organizations. I appreciate what they have done. I’m just not sure it’s fair on either side.”
Board member Joseph Hidalgo agreed with Byelich, also voting against the amended agreements.
“This is a hard one because I really appreciate the offer that has been put on the table and the sacrifices and concessions being made, but like Mark I’m very leery about where we are and the future. I do believe these are real savings and I’m very appreciative and I want to continue working with the teachers and administrators to see what we can do in the future.”
Board member Kristin Marcell said no one knows what’s going to happen in the future, “but from my perspective, this (the concessions) is really quite amazing to think about given what is going on right now and how the community is pulling together to get through this ... Obviously we have a rough financial road ahead, but I appreciate these efforts and I will be supporting this tonight.”
Board member Denise Brooks expressed “incredible gratitude” to the unions and their response to a difficult situation and noted that districts throughout the state are taking notice of the “great relationship we have with our teaching staff and the collaborative nature that it inspires.”
Board member Ed Tate called the concessions “admirable and to be appreciated. These agreements do not preclude future furloughs, which all of us would do everything possible to avoid, but they do go a long way to helping us address our budgetary crisis. I’m very appreciative to everyone involved for bringing this to the table tonight.”
Board President Andy Block added that the district has had a long history of cooperation with its unions resulting in many years of labor peace. “That is great for our kids and great for the district.
“We are one of the few in the state that have the kind of relationship that promote these kinds of savings in times like this,” said Block.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” he continued. “For me, what this really provides is more of a known so it helps us understand what the next two years can look like from the single biggest piece of our appropriations base. While that doesn’t make it a whole lot easier to plan for where we’re going to be, it does make it easier.”
Speaking to the concessions, Block called them “significant, meaningful and consistent with past practices. And if it continues to get worse, we have an open line of communication and I’m sure we’ll all pitch in and do what we have to do for the sustainability of the district.”