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New four-year Hopkinton teachers contract hammered out

A new four-year teachers contract has taken shape in Hopkinton that would offer night and weekend classes for students, a higher starting salary for teachers and savings in health care costs for the district.

The school board and the Hopkinton Education Association have both ratified the contract, but it won’t be final until it is approved by voters in March. School board member Matt Cairns said the contract is a product of “general brainstorming and collaboration.”

One of the ideas born of that brainstorming was a provision in the contract to allow teachers to offer night and weekend classes in their regular course load.

“Students have said to us, ‘I would love to be able to take that class but my schedule doesn’t allow it,’ ” Cairns said. “We said, ‘Well, let’s look at that.’ ”

No particular course prompted the district to look at this option for night and weekend classes, Cairns said. But these classes would be those that are sparsely enrolled or cut for lack of interest during the daytime.

“Is it an advanced math class?” Cairns asked. “Is it a different woodworking class? Is it a drama class? . . . The opportunities could be as wide as our imagination.”

Also part of the contract, the base salary for teachers will increase by 2.9 percent in the first year of the contract and by 2.5 percent in the next three years. The roughly 100 teachers in the district will continue to receive annual step increases of 5.4 percent or 5.5 percent based on their education and level of experience.

As it raised teacher salaries, the district also wrote an exit door into the contract to brace itself for higher health care bills. The most expensive plan offered to teachers is a family plan that has cost the district more than $18,000 this year.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the district would have to pay a tax on plans that exceed $26,500 after July 1, 2016 – the beginning of this contract’s last year. The board and the union have agreed to renegotiate health care benefits for the fourth year of the contract if the district’s health care costs do rise to that level. If they could not compromise, the fourth year of this contract would be void.

In another effort to cut health care costs, the contract would remove a $900 cap on teachers’ contributions to their health insurance. Teachers will still pay between 5 and 8 percent of their premiums, depending on their medical plan, while the district will pick up between 92 and 95 percent of the tab.

That split was already outlined in the last contract, but Cairns said that $900 threshold meant the district was paying a significant amount over its promised percentage of the costs.

“With rising health care costs, we felt it was important that the teachers participate at their percentage without the cap,” he said.

In schools, the contract would also require teachers and school staff members to participate in four 90-minute sessions each year for data analysis, when any number or combination of staff members could review individual student profiles.

A profile might include information such as a student’s reading level, test scores and personal assessments from teachers.

“We’ve created four times a year for the teachers to look at data, and figure out what’s going on and . . . is there something they could be doing better for a particular student,” Cairns said.

Superintendent Steve Chamberlin said the contract reflects the work of “a very good table” of negotiators.

“It was negotiation certainly that focused on wage and benefits, but also the opportunities to increase learning for our students,” Chamberlin said.

The union could not be reached for comment on the contract.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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