After weeks of negotiations during many late nights and early morning hours, the Orange Board of Education has reached a new contract with its teachers’ union. With no comment or details shared after the executive session vote, the Orange Board of Education entered a new contract for the next school year at its November 15 meeting.
Board member Susan Riccio read the motion prior to the vote, “The Board of Ed hereby moves to provide funding for and to otherwise accept and approve the agreement between the Board of Education and the Orange Teachers’ League for a successor collective bargaining agreement to begin July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2025.”
The board approved with the new board members abstaining.
Next, the contract went to the Board of Selectmen for approval. “You have three options: you either vote to support it, you vote to oppose it, or you take no action on it and it becomes law within 30 days. Take a look and don’t worry about the grammatical things, let’s just talk about whether you think the numbers are out of whack and if there are concerns that we should talk about,” said First Selectman Jim Zeoli before the board vote.
“They have done a lot of switching of things – they have HSA health plans. One of our units that will be coming before us after the New Year for negotiations is looking at all of the options for health coverage because the health insurance prices that they pay as a copay are a percentage of what we pay and they’re all driven by consumption,” Zeoli explained.
Selectman Mitchell Goldblatt said he had some hesitance when it came to pay raises. “I’ve gone through it and I think it’s fine because you can see the concessions that were made in healthcare and some other places. The only concern I have is looking at the salary schedules,” he said. “It’s a typical teachers’ contract which has steps and the movement on steps is significant. We’re approving contracts with raises in the 2% range and movement on these steps are in the 4, 5, and 6% range. And they added another step, which gives another 4.5% raise in 20 years,” Goldblatt said.
“When you look at the salaries, the schedule doesn’t change and that’s a good thing because they move up on the same steps. In year two, it’s 6% and in year three, it’s 7.3%. There’s some big movement and people should just be aware of it. I’m just a little bit perplexed as to why they did that in the end,” he said.
Zeoli agreed that the steps are big and says it will affect the Orange Board of Education budget. “That ultimately effects each of our residents and taxpayers and that is of concern, but the other side of the coin is that’s why we’re seeing so many people move to the area. Education is a very big part of the attraction,” he said.
Ralph Okenquist also agreed with Goldblatt, saying some of the numbers were on the high side. “I haven’t heard of any other town in the area that has had an increase like this,” he said. “We can vote to turn it down,” Okenquist said. In that case, the contract would go back to the Board of Education and the teachers’ union for a re-negotiation and if they can’t come to an agreement, it would go to arbitration or mediation.
“If we vote on it, I would vote in favor, but I am concerned about the future and those increases. They could have some very real impacts on their overall budget. There is far more staff on the Board of Education side than the Town of Orange has. On the heels of that, you’ll probably have the other school system doing something similar soon and that all has very real impacts on your overall town budget,” Zeoli said. “Education is 67% of the budget and it’s not something we have any control over.”
Board member Judy Williams made a motion to take no action on the budget, in order to send a message that they did not fully support the increases. The motion wasn’t necessary and the board informally agreed to take no action.
Goldblatt said he didn’t want to vote against it, but also didn’t want to vote in favor of the sizable increases, adding that he has faith that the Board of Education worked hard to keep the contract competitive.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent