Worcester Salary Talks Face Deadline Of Next Week

BERLIN – With a June 16 deadline approaching, representatives of the Worcester County Teachers Association continue to work with the school system to finalize salary negotiations.

The teachers association and the Worcester County Board of Education resumed salary negotiations this month after the Worcester County Commissioners voted June 2 not to fund pay increases for teachers — or any other county employees. The requested board of education budget of nearly $83 million was trimmed to $79 million.

That forced the school system to reopen negotiations with the teachers, who were seeking a step increase and a 2.5-percent cost-of-living increase.

Beth Shockley-Lynch, head of the teachers association, did not return calls for comment this week but school system officials confirmed that negotiations were underway.

“The negotiating teams for the board of education, the Worcester County Teachers Association and the Worcester County Education Support Personnel Association are in the process of finalizing a revised table agreement,” said Barb Witherow, the school system’s coordinator of public relations.

According to Witherow, once an agreement is finalized, the membership of both associations will have to approve it by ballot. After that, the school board and representatives of the two organizations will ratify it at the board of education meeting scheduled for June 16.

“There’s not a lot of time between now and June 16 so obviously the process will be moving forward quickly,” Witherow said.

Following the recent decision of the county commissioners not to fund pay increases, school system officials said they would consider making internal reductions in order to provide teachers with raises. Because 90 percent of the school system’s operating budget goes toward salaries, benefits and bus contracts, it’s expected that it will take position reductions to come up with the money.

Jerry Wilson, the county’s superintendent of schools, said last week, “Each position that we currently have supports a student’s education,” he said. “In addition, if the school system must reduce employee positions to adequately compensate the workforce, then the school system is not on a sustainable path. Position reduction could only be a temporary practice — a painful and costly one at that.”