After an hour and a half of testimony, the Tiverton School Committee approved a three-year contract with its teacher's union with a 4-1 vote at its Tuesday night meeting.
The contract gives teachers a zero percent cost-of-living adjustment for all teachers in the 2012-13 school year. In the last two years of the collective bargaining agreement, the district's most senior faculty members - step 10 teachers - will earn a 1.75 percent COLA increase.
According to the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, after agreeing to zero percent COLA increases throughout for the duration of the previous three-year contract, Tiverton's teachers are the lowest paid in the state. Despite the increase for top-step teachers, committee Chairwoman Sally Black said that fact would not change by 2015.
"This is one number I'm embarrassed about right there," said Black, referencing a chart that listed Rhode Island school districts from highest to lowest based on teacher salaries. "Our teachers are last in the state."
Despite built in pay increases at step levels, the only reward teachers will see for the next three years is a $200 stipend per year. Supt. William Rearick said the stipend is designed to reward teachers for achievement gains on standardized testing and in other areas without adding to base salary amounts.
"Since teachers took a zero [COLA], they actually lose money as healthcare goes up," said Rearick.
Rearick downplayed the contract's changes and said the "modest" increases would account for around 1 percent growth in the district's budget each year - this figure, he said does not include annual built in increases such as step-level pay increases and the rising costs of health care.
Several candidates for School Committee and Committeewoman Danielle Coulter, disagreed.
Coulter said the publicized negotiated increases, while modest, were misleading for taxpayers because increases in contract steps, health care costs and other items mandated in the contract would cause an increase in the millions by the end of the agreement.
"I ask that we add in the total costs of signing this contract into effect to give the town of Tiverton a more accurate view of the fiscal impact to the town and to give the public additional time to review the complete numbers and to comment upon them before we vote," said Coulter.
Committeewoman Deborah Pallasch, who served as a liaison to the town Budget Committee said representing the numbers in that way would be more misleading to voters because the salary base changes annually and health care cost increases are not compounded year to year.
"What we are obligated, and I think we've done that, is to post costs and negotiate the costs," agreed Rearick. "Everything we negotiated with the unions is in the fiscal impact statement, which is how we have done this the last three times."
Justin Katz, candidate for School Committee, warned the sitting committee that if elected, he and his cohorts would have a different way of running things.
"You should plan for that," said Katz. "You see us coming and there aren't going to be any surprises. Tiverton will get what the people vote for. Think what you want about me. Think what you want about the voters, but it is your responsibility to plan for that."
Committeewoman Carol Herrmann told Katz it was her job, as an elected member of the committee to serve out her four-year term.
"My obligation is not to serve out three and a half years and then stop because certain individuals have decided to run that do not share my concerns," she said.
"This is a fair contract that gives us cost control and I too, like Carol, am going to work every single day until someone kicks me out of office," said Pallasch. "The five of us worked it out and we need to take responsibility to either accept or reject it because that is what leaders do, they take responsibility."