HARVARD — The School Committee and Harvard Teachers Association (HTA) have finally signed a contract, after wrangling for more than a year about its terms.
At the brief May 29 School Committee meeting, the board ratified the contract the HTA accepted last week.
With four members of the five-member board present, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Jefferson presented the “final draft of the tentative contract.”
The title refers to the document as written, Jefferson later explained. Signed by both the HTA and the School Committee, he said the document is no longer a draft, nor is it tentative.
Now, it’s an official contract, he said.
The outcome represents “18 months of hard work by many ” said Jefferson.
Committee members thanked him for his continued optimism during an arduous and sometimes contentious process.
Teachers had been working without contracts since last summer, when negotiations stalled.
In protest, the HTA initiated a work-to-rule action that went on throughout the school year. Extracurricular activities and some of the schools’ traditional events were impacted by the teachers’ nonparticipation, including The Bromfield School Science Fair. Now the contract has been settled, just in time for the Bromfield graduation.
The sticking point of note has been health insurance benefits — specifically, what percentage of the premium employees pay versus the town. The previous HTA contract split the percentage 90/10 in the teachers’ favor. But a couple of years ago, in a town-wide cost control move, the town down-sized its portion to 70 percent for its non-union employees and offered union employees the same split.
In the end, the unions accepted the new split, with compensatory offsets, but the HTA held its ground.
But so did the School Committee.
The teachers offered a compromise of 80/20 with certain conditions. With that offer on the table, the two sides seemed stuck in the doldrums and didn’t meet over the summer. Negotiations resumed during the school year, but the stalemate persisted.
At one point, the two sides sat at tables in different rooms, communicating via a designated go-between.
The teachers and their supporters had become increasingly vocal about the stalemate, attending several Board of Selectmen and School Committee meetings and issuing public statements that were published in local newspapers.
Now there’s a contract, but the terms weren’t spotlighted at the May 29 School Committee meeting. However, School Committee Chairman Willie Wickman, who wasn’t at the meeting, has since issued a press release.
The new HTA contract states that as of Sept. 1, “the health insurance cost-sharing formula will be 80/20” with the town providing 80 percent and the teachers contributing 20 percent.
In exchange for giving up the 90/10 split, the HTA also agreed to “an offset of $500” added to the “salary schedule” in the second and third years of the three-year contract.
Wickman’s press release reads, in part, “The Harvard Teachers’ Association and Harvard School Committee are pleased to announce that after over 18 months of negotiations, they have agreed to terms for a new HTA contract.”
The term of the contract is retroactive and runs from Sept. 1, 2006, to Aug. 31, 2009. It calls for a retroactive, 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment with an added 0.5 percent upgrade halfway through the school year and additional 3 percent annual increases for two years.
“Both sides are relieved to have reached a settlement and look forward to working together in the years ahead,” the statement concludes.
During a roundtable commentary that traditionally ends each meeting, members expressed relief and satisfaction with the outcome.
“There were lots of opportunities to stray off the high road,” said Jefferson. “We didn’t.”
“It’s a relief to have the closure we’ve chased all year,” said member Jeffrey Shaw.