During its first meeting of 2023, the Stamford Board of Representatives will consider two union contracts – one for school employees who are among the highest-paid in the city, and the other for those earning half, or less, of those salaries.
Representatives are set to vote Tuesday on a contract for members of the Stamford Administrative Unit, which includes principals, assistant principals and Central Office administrators who are paid roughly $155,000 to $205,000 a year.
They also will consider a contract for members of the Stamford Board of Education Employees Association, which includes custodians and maintenance workers whose annual pay ranges from about $50,000 to $90,000.
The city charter sets a path for such labor contracts.
It begins with the Board of Education negotiating an agreement with a union. The Board of Finance then issues an opinion on the agreement and forwards that to the Board of Representatives, which votes on whether to approve the pact.
If representatives reject it, it goes to a state panel for arbitration.
It could be that the school administrators contract is headed that way.
Watch for the cliff
Board of Education President Jackie Heftman and board attorney Thomas Mooney of Shipman & Goodwin urged the Board of Finance to back the raises for administrators.
The increases amount to 10.5 percent over the three-year contract, Mooney said, which is only .6 percent more and “not a significant difference” from other labor agreements reached in Connecticut this year.
The new contract would cost Stamford taxpayers $600,000 the first year and $440,000 in each of the subsequent two years for raises for 78 school administrators.
The agreement acknowledges their hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic, Heftman said.
“They responded to day-to-day challenges without a whimper or a grievance,” Heftman said. “In a tight labor market, it’s important to stay competitive in Fairfield County, especially Norwalk – they pay their administrative unit higher than we do.”
Finance board members asked whether Stamford loses administrators to Norwalk.
“Has the Board of Ed had trouble recruiting or retaining administrators?” finance board Chairman Richard Freedman asked. “For administrators, few districts pay better than we do. So is it common that we lose people because of higher salaries?”
“Once in a while,” said Christopher Soules, executive director of human resources for the school district. “We have a lot of administrators who’ve been with us a long time.”
“Don’t you get future administrators from well-established teachers?” asked Mary Lou Rinaldi, the finance board vice chair.
“For the most part, yes,” Soules replied. “We’re home-grown as far as administrators are concerned.”
“So recruiting is not as much of an issue if you’re mostly promoting from within,” Rinaldi said.
“Just because we don’t have a lot of administrators leaving, there’s no reason to not pay them a salary commensurate with their workload,” Heftman said.
It was not enough to convince finance board members, who voted to recommend that representatives not approve the contract.
Finance board member Dennis Mahoney said it’s too expensive for a school district facing daunting costs – it will need $9 million by the end of the 2023-24 school year to cover 120 positions the district filled using federal COVID relief funding that will run out at that time.
The district’s finance director has said that budget hikes of 5.3 percent for the next two years – twice the usual annual increase – are on the horizon to cover that plus escalating costs of wages, benefits, health care, student transportation and utilities.
“We’re going to be talking about a fiscal cliff,” Mahoney said. “This will make the cliff bigger, make the fall harder.”
Dog walks that tell
Heftman and Mooney heard more of that when they went before the Board of Representatives’ Personnel Committee on Dec. 21. Mooney explained that a rejection of the agreement would send it to arbitration, which “offers no promise of a different outcome.”
City Rep. Amiel Goldberg said many of his constituents earn salaries comparable to those of school administrators, but “I have not talked to anybody who is getting a raise in the 4.5 percent range,” which the contract promises in the first year.
“When I’m out walking the dog, how do I say to my neighbor who got a 2.5 percent raise that I gave administrators with similar backgrounds 4.5 percent?” Goldberg asked Mooney, who also cited 7 percent inflation as a reason for the large raises. “If the (Federal Reserve) gets inflation back down to 2 percent, once again, I’ve got a dog-walking problem.”
City Rep. Anabel Figueroa, co-chair of the Personnel Committee, said property owners recently received the results of a revaluation that significantly increased home values, and likely taxes.
“We just got a letter from the mayor’s office that we are facing tough times; we have to make tough decisions,” Figueroa said. “Let’s think about our taxpayers.”
Three of the committee members voted to reject the contract and five voted to accept it. So it will go to a vote of the full board on Tuesday.
A pact that gives back
The contract for custodians and trade workers drew less discussion and disagreement, though Mooney said an agreement was reached only after “protracted negotiations.”
The proposal is for a retroactive increase of 2.5 percent for 2021, and 4 percent for this year and each of the next two years. That will cost about $160,000, Mooney said, but union members agreed to changes that will realize about $182,000 in savings.
The changes will allow the school board to hire non-union, lower-paid substitutes to fill in when custodians are absent. Custodians now are paid overtime to fill in.
Now custodians are paid for at least two hours when they are called in to work before the start of their shift. Under the new contract, that will be eliminated if the call-in is contiguous with the start of a shift.
The agreement restricts vacation time now allowed without prior approval, and says that no more than 50 percent of union members may be on vacation at one time.
Freedman, the finance board chair, said he voted against recommending the administrators’ contract but supported the custodians’ contract.
With the custodians, “we have a union that … wanted an above-scale wage increase … but were willing to come to the table to pay for it, which is not the case with the principals,” Freedman said.
The custodians’ raise is high at 4 percent “but in exchange we are getting work rule concessions that are worth a lot, and I think we should approve this.”
His board did so unanimously.
So did the Board of Representatives’ Personnel Committee, and without comment, except for the chair, Figueroa.
She said a 4 percent increase “for someone making $25 an hour is insignificant compared to someone making over $200,000” a year.
“It always bothers me when we approve a contract with such a minimal increase for those really hard-working people who earn so much less,” Figueroa said.
The Board of Representatives’ Jan. 3 virtual meeting begins at 8 p.m. and may be viewed here.