Amity Contract Seeks to Attract New Teachers
In an effort to stem the tide of teachers leaving the district and to support teacher retention, the Amity Board of Education and the Teachers Union have agreed to an unprecedented 13.5% salary increase spread over the next three school years. “Both the administration team and the Board of Education are in support of a teacher’s contract that both attracts new teachers to the district to fill vacancies and supports teacher retention to limit the disruption of education to our students,” wrote Amity Supt. Dr. Jennifer Byars in an email. The contract will cover the years starting July 1, 2024 and ending June 30, 2027.
Many industries have seen large turnover rates in the wake of the pandemic, but teacher burnout, in particular, has been in the headlines nation-wide and led to pockets of shortages.
Amity has seen its share of teachers leaving, some choosing to retire and others leaving to join higher–paying districts or to leave the profession altogether. Amity Education Association (AEA) President Patrick Cumpstone said since the beginning of the Covid pandemic in 2020, some 56 teachers had left the district. That figure represents about 25% of the faculty, according to Cumpstone. His union represents 227 teachers spread among the high school and two middle schools.
This level of turnover is unusual for the Amity district, especially given it occurred partly during the school year. For the teachers who are staying that often means taking on more responsibility to cover for colleagues until new hires can take over. But filling openings takes time. Seeing long-time colleagues move on also takes an emotional toll. Moreover, the turnover has an impact on students, academically and emotionally, especially when it occurs during the school year.
The focus during the negotiations this year was on wages, Cumpstone said. Even so, the 13.5% increase does not mean that all teachers will walk away with a 13.5% wage increase. It is an overall number that describes a web of working conditions and remuneration which rewards longevity and academic advancement, but seeks to make it easier for new hires to build a career at Amity.
The contract reduces the step scale – which increases the salary each year a teacher is at Amity – from currently 13 steps to 12, which allows them to reach the top faster, Cumpstone said. It also cuts steps 1, 2 and 3, thereby creating a starting salary of over $60,000 for a candidate with a Master’s degree. Step increases themselves make up almost 7% of the wage increase, without adding in the general wage increase.
A major benefit for young families is that starting in July 2024 the contract will allow those expecting to grow their family – either by birth or by adoption – to add accrued sick time when on approved Family Medical Leave. It means up to 12 weeks of paid maternity/paternity leave.
New in the contract is a tuition reimbursement program for teachers who pursue an advanced degree. Cumpstone said some 15-20 teachers had expressed an interest. This feature, according to Dr. Byars, not only makes Amity’s contract competitive with other school districts, but also supports the district’s strategic goal to provide teachers with opportunities for professional development and learning.
Dr. Byars pointed out that revisions to the sections of the contract addressing class size will provide the administration with more flexibility and options if school schedule changes are ever needed.
The contract provides that at the middle school, class sizes shall be no greater than 22 students, with the exception of accelerated math, which shall be no greater than 28 students. At the high school, class sizes shall be no greater than 27 students. Physical education classes shall be no greater than 35 students.
At the same time, the contract provides that “in unusual circumstances, the class size or the total class teaching load may be modified.” Similarly, courses meeting fewer than three times per four-day rotation shall not be subject to the provisions of [the total class load as described in] Article V, Section A.2.
Negotiations for the contract ended in mediation, but both sides seemed eager to support the final contract. Cumpstone said in his view, both the Board of Education and the administration shared the concerns brought forward by the teachers. “They value our teachers,” he said, adding, “we understand that they also have an obligation to the towns.”
Dr. Byars expressed a more muted support. “Overall, we were very pleased to have reached an agreement through the mediation process and without having to go to arbitration,” she wrote. When asked about the towns’ input, she pointed out that the selectmen have the option by law to reject the contract, up to 30 days after it was filed, but warned that such action would move it into arbitration.
Budget impact: Given that salaries account for approximately 60% of the Amity budget, Dr. Byars said she expects the annual salary increase in the 2024-25 budget to be greater than 4%. “The budget will have to increase proportionally to maintain our current programs,” she wrote.