LITCHFIELD — A superior court judge has granted permission for the local school district to host a special election to vote on a tentative contract with teachers.
On Friday, Judge Charles Temple of Hillsborough County Superior Court South issued a ruling granting the school board’s petition for a special election.
“We are very pleased because we think this is the right thing for the teachers,” Superintendent Mike Jette said on Tuesday. “At the end of the day, we are glad the voters have another opportunity to weigh in on a new agreement.”
In March, voters rejected a tentative three-year agreement that would have increased teachers’ salaries by about 3.5% for the first two years, and about 3.2% in the final year — for a total cost of about $1.1 million.
Another tentative three-year agreement was reached in June asking voters to approve a total cost increase of $854,737 over the course of the contract. The contract would call for a 1% salary increase in the first year, a 1.5% pay hike in the second year, and a 1.75% pay raise in the third year.
“The court finds that these two occurrences, when considered together with all of the other circumstances of this case, call for the prompt action in the form of a special school district meeting. For all of these reasons, the court concludes that an ‘emergency’ exists,” Temple wrote in his ruling.
Temple stated that the current situation is serious and urgent in nature, and that there is no other remedy to resolve the matter, aside from a special election.
Since the newest tentative agreement has a reduction in cost items compared to the original union contract that was proposed, Temple said it is “clear that the (school) board and the (Litchfield Education Association) took the legislative body’s concerns about cost into consideration” during recent negotiations.
The school board stressed the need for urgency, maintaining in court records that it might otherwise suffer “disharmony in labor-management negotiations,” and that if teachers do not receive salary increases for the new school year, it could harm teacher morale, states court records.
George Lambert, a local resident, argued at a previous court hearing that the district could have avoided this situation if it had placed a separate warrant article on the March ballot seeking permission from voters to call a special meeting if the contract was rejected at the polls.
“Even if a contingent warrant article had been inserted, there is no guarantee that the voters would have passed it,” Temple wrote in his ruling.
A deliberative session on the newly negotiated teacher contract was originally set to take place on Tuesday. However, the official voter checklist has yet to be posted, meaning the deliberative session has been postponed until Oct. 1.
Election day will take place on Oct. 29.