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I want to start by saying that I am not taking a position on this issue, as I am not involved in the process, but I think it might be helpful to provide a perspective that is prompted by a recent email from a friend.

This friend, business savvy and experienced, sent me a copy of a flyer recently distributed to parents by teachers at his kid’s school. His question to me was, in essence, “What’s the big deal about giving a 3% cost-of-living adjustment rather than a 2% increase. Neither number is very large.”

His question prompted me to look at the current contract because–given my experience in the public sector–I had trouble imagining that each teacher would only be getting an annual increase of 2% or 3%. I was then able to provide him with a more thorough explanation.

The teachers’ contract, like many in the public sector, provides for an annual step increase each year a teacher stays in his or her job. As I read the salary schedule effective March 1, 2018 (since modified by a one-year extension), those step increases were in the range of 3.6% to 3.8%. While some percentage of teachers top out of the 15-year salary schedule and don’t get step increases, there is also a longevity payment that is awarded annually: $750 after 13 years of service; $1000 after 19 years of service; $1500 after 24 years of service; and $3000 after 27 years of service. So the first year’s annual increase for a typical teacher who hasn’t topped out could be, say, 5.7% under the city’s offer and 6.7% under the union’s request.

I think the handout has one inaccuracy when it suggest that the union’s requested 3% annual increase amounts to 12% over four years. Because of compounding, I believe that would be 12.55%. Likewise, the city’s offer of 2% per year does not amount to 6% over three years, but rather 6.1%.

So what’s the right answer, 2% or 3% or something in between? There are lots of moving parts in a negotiation like this. Just looking at the salary component, there are the number and size of the steps, the extent to which the entire step schedule is adjusted up each year, the longevity payments, and so on. There’s also the desired term of the contract, three years or four years. For how long a period do you want to lock in the agreed upon wage increases? More broadly, the contract covers issues like medical coverage, release time for professional advancement, preparation time, and the like.

I think we all join with our teachers in the hope the contract can be resolved reasonably quickly, but we also join with the School Committee (including the Mayor) in their desire to offer a competitive package balanced against a need to ensure that there a reasonable financial result over the term of the contract.

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