Gill-Montague educators, School Committee reach contract agreement

Educators at Hillcrest Elementary School in Turners Falls participate in a work-to-rule protest in June, providing leverage during negotiations. Having been signed by Gill-Montague Regional School District School Committee Chair Jane Oakes, the contract between the committee and the teachers union is now official.

Educators at Hillcrest Elementary School in Turners Falls participate in a work-to-rule protest in June, providing leverage during negotiations. Having been signed by Gill-Montague Regional School District School Committee Chair Jane Oakes, the contract between the committee and the teachers union is now official. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 11-03-2023 2:47 PM

MONTAGUE — Having been signed by Gill-Montague Regional School District School Committee Chair Jane Oakes, the contract between the committee and the teachers union is now official, Superintendent Brian Beck announced Thursday.

The contract, a product of negotiations that began in March 2022, spans from fiscal year 2023 (with 2022-2023 school year salaries to be paid retroactively) through FY26. It entails respective 2%, 3%, 2% and 2% yearly increases over the four-year period — percentages initially proposed by the School Committee — plus two new salary steps that provide extra 1% salary increases for teachers and other Unit A staff members who have worked more than 12 years in the district. It also provides additional longevity incentives for these staff members.

While there was a tentative three-year agreement reached in August 2022 outlining raises between 2% and 3% each year, it was ultimately rejected by the Gill-Montague Education Association (GMEA) teachers union that October. On Dec. 12, the union returned with a new request of 11% over the three years of the contract, a full 3% higher than the original union proposal, according to Oakes. Both sides then began mediated negotiations in March 2023 and continue to meet.

In June, the GMEA requested respective 2%, 3%, 3% and 3% yearly salary increases for teachers over four years, beginning in 2022-2023. Adjustment counselor Joseph Katz described negotiation difficulties as “an impasse over a difference of 2% salary increases over four years, with disputed salary increases for the 24-25 school year and the 25-26 school year.” The school board’s proposal, meanwhile, involved respective 2%, 3%, 2% and 2% yearly increases over a four-year period.

Securing respective 2%, 3%, 3% and 3% yearly salary increases for Unit A staff members was the “key component” to reaching a mutually agreeable contract, said GMEA Co-President Heidi Schmidt. The previous contract had been capped at step L, with “a lot of people who were stuck essentially at year 12,” Schmidt explained. The new contract institutes steps M and N for employees who have worked more than 12 years in the district. These steps will see a 3% salary increase, rather than the 2% base increase.

Schmidt estimated that more than half of the teachers in the district qualify for steps M and N.

“Historically, we haven’t been taking care of the people who have been here a long time, but those are most of our teachers,” she said. “We want to take care of the teachers who stuck with us.”

Additionally, the new contract outlines longevity bonuses ranging from $500 after 12 years up to $2,500 after 29 years.

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The new contract also gradually eliminates the lower end of the wage scale. In FY25, the first step will be dropped, with step B becoming the first-year placement. That step will then be dropped in FY26 and step C will become the first-year placement.

The full collective bargaining agreement can be viewed at bit.ly/3tXrePw.

School Committee member Bill Tomb voiced appreciation for the GMEA’s work to reach an agreement after the committee voted to authorize Oakes to sign on Oct. 10.

“I do want to thank the teachers for their patience and perseverance on this issue,” said Tomb, who was acting as chair due to Oakes’ absence at the meeting.

Schmidt expressed gratitude to school staff for their advocacy at School Committee meetings, as well as their work-to-rule protests that provided leverage during negotiations. She stressed, however, that the GMEA and School Committee have not yet reached an agreement relative to Unit C staff, which consists of paraprofessionals, information technology (IT) staff and administrative assistants. These employees are some of the most important and least paid, she argued.

“It’s really good to have Unit A done,” she said, “but we’re not done yet.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.