“They were extremely positive,” Superintendent George Fisk said. “It truly was a positive experience; it really was.”
During a special meeting Thursday, the school board approved a three-year labor agreement with the NTA, effective July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2021. The contract provides for base-salary increases of 1.5 percent during each of the three years.
“NTA members will also experience an increase in employee contributions to healthcare during each year of the contract,” Fisk said. “It’s a cost-saving measure to reduce the impact of the salary increases on our district’s finances.”
In the previous contract, the base-salary increases respectively were for 2 1/4, 2 and 2 1/4 over three years.
The new contract allows for an increase in instructional time by 15 minutes per day for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
“Tentatively we want the students to go to school 15 minutes earlier, but get out at the same time,” Fisk said. “The increased instructional time will allow for more flexibility to implement innovative practices as well as increase student achievement. District teachers and administrators will also collaboratively study and recommend improvements to maintain efficient staff utilization throughout the district.”
Representing the district in the negotiations were Fisk, director of operations Corey Ream, treasurer Joyce Dupont and board president Lisa Wick.
Representatives for the NTA were: Union president Sarah Furey (an intervention specialist at Main Street School), Rod Thimke (Norwalk Middle School science and engineering teacher), Nate Whaley (NMS and Norwalk High School science) and Amy Krichbaum (a fourth-grade teacher at League Elementary).
“It was an enjoyable experience. It felt like we were working together,” Krichbaum said.
Wick agreed, saying “we sat down like adults and talked.”
Before the formal negotiations started, there was a full day of training with a federal mediator to acquaint the district and NTA representatives with the model to be used — interest-based bargaining. Essentially it emphasizes working toward solutions and takes away conflict from the process.
“It was the perfect approach for us. The model looks to find answers, not take positions,” said Fisk, who considered the entire negotiations with NTA “very collaborative,” positive and productive.
Fisk and Furey had agreed upon the interest-based bargaining model before the negotiations started.
“The model has been around for a while,” said Thimke, the previous NTA president. “It was a mutual agreement to try it out. … We met with a federal mediator the entire time, which helped the process.”
Once the two sides exchanged their lists of issues and proposed solutions, Thimke said they were prioritized as to how they would be addressed. There were three negotiation sessions, with each one lasting about seven hours.
Fisk said in his experience, negotiations are a time to strengthen the relationship between the district and teachers. This was the third time he has been involved in a contract negotiation in his career as a superintendent.
“I feel like we came out of these negotiations stronger than when we went in,” Fisk said. “This was by far the best one I’ve been involved with.”