School bus. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

BREAKING NEWS: Westford Teachers Ratify 2017-2020 Contract

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Superintendent Everett V. Olsen announced the teachers 2017-20 contract was ratified on Feb. 15 and will now go before the School Committee for approval at its Feb. 26 meeting.

The teachers and administrators had hit a snag in negotiations last year and the matter was headed for arbitration. However, yesterday’s development indicates a sticking point regarding some unspecified language issues has been resolved.

“The teachers did agree to the new proposals,” said Olsen.

Neither Olsen nor School Committee Chairman Terry Ryan would provide details, saying that the contract would be posted after the School Committee approves it.

The teachers had been operating without a contract since Aug. 31 when the 2014-17 agreement expired. Ongoing negotiations for a new contract slowed due to what Ryan called a “language issue.”

In October the teachers filed a “charge of prohibited practice” with the state Department of Labor Relations.

Olsen said he and Westford Education Association union president, Mary McCusker had agreed to issue a joint press release and it would be forthcoming once she gave her approval. McCusker could not be immediately reached for comment.

The teachers will now receive the 6 percent salary raise approved by voters in May as a $1.6 million permanent tax hike beyond the limitations of Proposition 2 1/2. The increase will be raised over three years at $530,000 per year. The salary boost is retroactive to the beginning of the school year, said Ryan.

School Committee members, this spring, had touted the override request of Proposition 2 1/2 as a way of smoothing the waters for upcoming contract negotiations, so the logjam came as a surprise to residents. Neither union nor school officials would divulge what caused the snag.

Proposition 2 1/2 is a state law that limits annual property tax increases to 2.5 percent plus new growth.

Teachers’ salaries, otherwise known as steps, increase annually with each year of experience acquired. The salaries also increase based on the level of education acquired. The teachers had not received those annual salary increases, nor had they received the additional 6 percent raise from the tax increase.

During the 2016-17 school year, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree at step one would earn $42,611 annually, $48,935 with a master’s, and $54,081 with a master’s and 30 additional credits, according to the expired contract. At step 14 — the highest on the ladder — a teacher with a bachelor’s degree would earn $74,185 annually, $82,008 with a master’s, and $87,359 with a master’s and 30 years experience.

Ryan, who is running among a field of 14 for the Congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, had promised to get the matter resolved quickly.

“I’m pleased that the union leadership and the administration worked together to get this deal done,” he said.