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Contract saves district $600,000

Date: 7/3/2013

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — The recent agreement between the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee and the district's three collective bargaining units will save essentially all of the teaching positions slated to be cut back.

The School Committee and Hampden Wilbraham Educational Association successfully negotiated a one-year contract that was signed on June 20 that will save the district approximately $600,000.

Those savings, School Committee Chair Peter Salerno told Reminder Publications, would be used to restore 12 full time positions in related arts — which include science, physical education (PE), art, music and technology — that were cut to part time in response to a budget shortfall.

"What this agreement does is allow us to bring those positions that were cut back to .8 FTE (full time equivalent) back to full time positions," he said.

Salerno said the emphasis in negotiations was the restoration of those programs and positions that the district expected to scale back, but it also benefited some non-licensed educational professionals as well.

"In addition to the teachers, four paraprofessionals will be brought back," he said.

Initially, the district planned to cut 12 paraprofessional positions, as well as a clerical position, an administrative position and a district wide operational support position.

Salerno made no mention of any of the other support positions being reinstated.

The restoration of the positions was made possible because teachers agreed to forego previously agreed upon step increases and take a half furlough day during a scheduled professional development day. Teachers would still receive a 1 percent cost of living increase.

Salerno called the ability of the School Committee and the unions to work together toward a solution very encouraging.

"We are partners in this and this agreement is something we are very proud of," he said. "We didn't want to treat this as an adversarial situation because in reality, we had the same goal."

He added that while this agreement alleviated some of the budget challenges facing the district, the work was far from finished.

"The School Committee and the collective bargaining units are looking into solutions, most importantly regarding health insurance and the costs associated with that," he said.

As part of the one-year agreement, there was a change to the current cost-share arrangement, but Salerno said a more permanent solution is sought.

"We are both working hard in this regard because we don't want to go back to the table and not have the right answers," he said.