Hingham’s School Committee ratified the labor agreement with the Hingham Education Association Monday night, putting an end to the 2 1/2-year struggle between the two sides.
The ratification comes almost a month after an oral greement was reached with both parties, and a week after the HEA voted in favor of the agreement.
The new agreement outlines two contracts – one for the year that just ended, and one for the three years starting September 2011.
Like other town departments, teachers received a 0 percent salary increase for 2010-2011. For 2011-2014, teachers will receive a 2 percent increase in salary every year.
There is also some language in the 2011-2014 contract concerning bereavement leave, maternity leave, and personal leave. In the 13-14 year, there also is an increase in
longevity payments for teachers with 15 or more years of experience in the HPS.
According to school officials, these were the longest negotiations in institutional memory, as discussions have been ongoing since May 2009. Teachers have been working under the terms of the previous contract, since it expired in 2010.
“We had a long negotiation and certainly we are very pleased that this has come to the closure that it has,” Superintendent Dr. Dorothy Galo said. “We’re all ready to move forward with a positive school year, and hope that will be the case for the other side as well.”
HEA President Alec Porter agreed that the teachers union was happy that negotiations had finally reached a close, but lamented some portions of the compromise.
“On the one hand, we’re happy we finally came to a settlement. We were hoping it would be a bit more competitive, what they would offer, compared to other districts. There are a number of teachers that have left the district for higher salaries, and who can blame them,” he said. “But for the most part, the HEA is generally happy that the process is over and we were able to negotiate what is a reasonably fair deal.”
Teachers were still frustrated that they received no pay raise for the past year, and did not receive any other compensation to assuage that pain.
For many, it was the second time teachers had taken a 0 percent increase, with little to make up for it, Porter said.
“There were a large number of teachers that expressed their unhappiness,” he said. “It means a lot of things, less out of their pensions…but these are difficult economic times, and we move forward.”
Porter recognized that the process would be started all over again in a year and a half, and said he hoped things would be less difficult.
“We hope that the next time around things won’t be as arduous as they were this time … But we’ve done some things in Hingham that we’ll do again if we need to,” Porter said. “Whether it’s picketing or rallying or going to School Committee meetings, and I hope School Committee members wont forget.”
As much as the HEA hopes the memory of the contentious negotiations sticks in the committee’s mind in years to come, Ray Estes, who is on the negotiations subcommittee, hopes the next round will be different.
"I don’t know if the teachers have learned anything or not. I would hope they may have learned that it didn’t have to be so difficult, and in the end, the School Committee is really behind the teachers,” he said.
According to Estes, the goal of the School Committee all along is to support the teachers, help them to be comfortable in their jobs, and ensure they are respected and well-paid.
Yet the reality of the situation is that there just isn’t enough money to give the teachers what they want, a truth especially difficult to realize as the School Committee doesn’t make its own budget.
“Like with any negotiations, the two sides have different ideas of where they want to end up at, and from the School Committee’s perspective, we only had a limited amount of money to work with and very challenging economic times - that kind of tied our hands,” Estes said.
Despite what may lie ahead, and what now lies in the past, all parties are just grateful the process is, for now, over.
“I was disappointed that it took as long as it did, I was disappointed it was as contentious, I was extremely disappointed about misinformation that was spread at times,” Estes said. “But in the end, I am happy and appreciative that we were able to set our differences aside and come to an agreement.”