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February 08. 2014 8:16PM

Litchfield teachers seek wage increase

LITCHFIELD - A group of local teachers stood in unison on Saturday wearing red shirts to support a new contract that would increase teacher salaries closer to industry standards.

"Effective teaching is what schools and school districts are all about," said Superintendent Brian Cochrane, noting Litchfield teachers have been working two years without a contract.

In order to keep the best teachers and entice new, young educators, the proposed three-year contract will move the salary pay and step structure closer to industry standards, Cochrane said.

If it is not approved, Cochrane said, some of Litchfield's quality teachers could leave for other school districts paying $8 or $10 more an hour.

During Saturday's school district deliberative session, the teacher contract, along with the district's proposed $20.9 million budget, dominated public discussion.

No amendments were made to the collective bargaining agreement warrant article between the school district and the Litchfield Education Association, which calls for an increase of $213,383 for the upcoming school year, $195,737 for the following year and $175,545 the third year.

"We are looking for a contract for the future," said Carolyn Leite, president of the LEA. "Your children deserve to have highly qualified, highly dedicated teachers."

Derek Barka, chairman of the Litchfield School Board, said the recommended contract would increase starting teacher salaries from $33,623 a year to $36,517 throughout the three years of the contract.

He noted that some of the existing teachers with four-year college degrees are qualifying for free and reduced lunches because they are not making enough income.

"It is eye opening," said Barka. "These are professionals."

Although the majority of the school board is supporting the proposed teacher contract, the budget committee was split on whether to endorse the bargaining agreement.

"I don't disagree that teachers deserve a raise," said Chris Pascucci, a budget committee member who voted against the contract. However, Pascucci said he could not support the contract because of the overall cost to taxpayers - an increase of nearly $585,000 over three years, and a .26 cents increase on the tax rate.

He explained that voters failed to approve a teacher contract at the polls last year that had a total increase of slightly more than $200,000. Maintaining that his decision should not be confrontational, Pascucci said the students, teachers and taxpayers must all be taken into consideration.

Aside from the teacher contract, there was significant discussion on Saturday about adding $1 to the proposed $20.9 million budget to revamp a former community and adult education program. The dollar was eventually added, along with an increase of more than $43,000 to the transportation account because of an expected 25 percent increase in bus transportation costs.

Next month at the polls, voters will be asked to approve a budget of nearly $21 million. If the recommended budget and all of the requested warrant articles are adopted by voters in March, the average homeowner with a house assessed at $200,000 will see their tax bill increase by about $120, while a home assessed at $350,000 will have about a $210 increase in their tax bill, according to data provided by school officials.

Election Day is March 11, and the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Campbell High School.

- Kimberly HoughtonSunday News Correspondentkhoughton@newstote.com


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