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Contract OK'd for Manchester's school paraprofessionals

MANCHESTER — The school board has approved a new contract with the district's paraprofessionals that will require them to make greater contributions for their health care and tie their salary raises to the tax cap.

At the same time, Ward 10 board member John Avard, who chairs the board's negotiations subcommittee, acknowledged that it had officially reached an impasse with the teacher union, the Manchester Education Association. The MEA is the largest of the four district employee associations whose contracts expire at the end of this school year.
Avard said he hoped that the agreement reached with the paraprofessionals' union, AFSCME Local 3912, would lead to progress with the other units.

"We have made the same offer to everybody, in terms of pay and health benefits," Avard said in an interview after the board meeting Wednesday.
The board discussed the details of the agreement in nonpublic session.

Under the agreement, the paraprofessionals will see their premium contribution rates go from 7 percent to 15 percent, and co-pays from $5 to $20. The exact rates will vary depending on whether employees opt for a plan with a Health Maintenance Organization or a Health Savings Account.
The contract pegs raises to the change in the Consumer Price Index, which is also used to calculate the tax cap on the city and school budgets.

Avard said the contract will lead to $189,000 in savings in the first year of the two-year contract and will cost $113,000 more in the second year. He said the net savings would be $69,000.

Ward 3 board member Christopher Stewart, who is also on the negotiations committee, praised the paraprofessionals for their willingness to compromise, and noted that it was the first contract agreement reached under the tax cap.
"I think we're on the precipice of some very exciting things," he said.

The board voted unanimously — with one abstention — to ratify the agreement with the paraprofessionals. Mayor Ted Gatsas voted against it.
Prior to the vote, Gatsas pressed Avard for more information, including how many paraprofessionals would be affected under the contract. Neither Avard nor Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis had a number available.
"I would think with something as important as COLAs and health insurance, we would know how many lives are affected in the district," Gatsas said.

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