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LEA and School Committee agree to zero percent COLAs

Date: 2/2/2010

Feb. 1, 2010

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW -- Tough economic times call for tough financial decisions. The Longmeadow Education Association (LEA) made one of those decisions by reaching a two-year collective bargaining agreement with the School Committee that provides a zero percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the current fiscal year and the next.

"We've never been in a situation like this before," Marcia Haar, president of LEA, said. "This was the most difficult bargaining process we've ever been through."

Approximately 285 teachers, counselors and specialists agreed to the zero percent COLAs and ratified the agreement the week of Jan. 18; the School Committee approved it at their Jan. 25 meeting.

In addition to seeing zero percent COLAs, the agreement also permits a temporary reduction in professional development days over the two year period, which ends Aug. 31, 2011. School Committee Chair Mary Vogel explained this means one less day of work for teachers this school year and two days less in the 2010-11 school year.

This agreement came at the end of a one and a half year long bargaining process, which Haar said is about average, but stressed again that negotiations were tough because of economic conditions.

"Bargaining teams representing each building were part of the process, and we got input and feedback [from them] and we [LEA] gave input and feedback," she explained.

Vogel said she was pleased with the fact this agreement was reached, especially before the school department's budget for fiscal year 2011 (FY11) was submitted.

A budget with $1.8 million in cuts was submitted to the School Committee at last Monday's meeting.

"Because the agreement doesn't affect step increases there won't be any direct savings but we would've had to cut more with COLAs," Vogel explained.

"People understand the dire conditions we're operating under, but even with the zero percent COLA there may be 31.5 positions eliminated," Haar noted.

Neither Vogel nor Haar said they could see a similar agreement happening in the near future.

"There's a limit to what people can accept," Haar said.