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Devens, teacher contracts figure into upcoming school year

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HARVARD — The schools reached an important contractual agreement over the summer, but it wasn’t with the teacher’s union.

The deal was with MassDevelopment to provide middle- and high-school education for students at Devens this fall.

Still unresolved are negotiations between the Harvard Teachers Association and School Committee which have dragged on for almost a year.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Jefferson said the Devens contract is for the next five years, and he was optimistic a new teacher’s contract will be reached shortly.

“I’m hopeful that, before too, too long, the contract will be settled,” he said.

However, Jefferson conceded it’s unlikely a new teacher’s contract will be reached before school opens on Aug. 30, which means teachers will begin the year working without a contract.

Both agreements will have some effect on school operations. The Devens contract will bring a handful of students and new revenue to the schools.

Less clear is the potential fallout from the teachers working without a contract.

Over the summer, the teachers association released a statement warning that some teachers may opt out of serving as advisors for extra-curricular activities such as sports, arts and clubs if a new contract isn’t reached by fall.

The schools needed the athletics picture to be clear earlier, he said, and prospects were good for no interruptions there.

“It’s still coming together, but we anticipate all sports being operational in the fall,” he said.

The teachers’ contracts expired in June, after nine months of fruitless negotiations. The crux of the disagreement has been the rate the teachers must contribute for health insurance premiums.

Teachers currently get 90 percent of those premiums covered, while town representatives have been determined to bring that figure to 70 percent, which is what all other town employees receive.

Union negotiations Chairman Kathleen Doherty told the Hillside in June that the teachers would consider an 80 percent rate, but they would not accept what they termed a “200 percent increase” in health-care premiums.

In June, the School Committee said it would compensate any additional out-of-pocket expenses for teachers in the coming year, though the effects of rising premiums would almost certainly be made up by the teachers in coming years.

Efforts to reach Doherty for further comment were unsuccessful.

On the Devens contract, Jefferson said less than a dozen students from the former base are currently enrolled, set against some 80 school choice slots that are available.

“Last count, we had only eight or 10 students. I suspect we’ll pick up a couple more,” said Jefferson. “It’s not going to be a dramatic number.”

The contract is expected to benefit the school nonetheless by bringing in approximately $10,000 per student — roughly twice that of school choice — plus additional revenues that are being supplied by MassDevelopment as part of the contract such as $90,000 for salaries and $40,000 for capital expenditures in the first year.

“We still have a number of benefits just by having the contact,” said Jefferson. “I think it will be good for Harvard and good for the students of Devens. It’s a win-win.”

In the long term, Jefferson said the contract allows for a great deal of flexibility from both sides to determine how long they want the arrangement to continue.

Though the disposition process for Devens is aimed at adding 1,800 houses to the former base over the next 20 years, Jefferson said the Harvard schools will be kept apprised of the schedule for adding that housing, so it can plan accordingly.

“We’re going to monitor those numbers very closely,” he said.

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