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Riverhead teachers union, BOE reach agreement on new six-year contract

Riverhead teachers will see salary increases of 3.5% over six years under the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement approved by the Board of Education Tuesday.

The school board voted unanimously to approve the six-year contract, which takes effect July 1 and expires June 30, 2026.

Riverhead Board of Education president Greg Meyer said Tuesday that negotiations began last year, and described the process as collaborative and fair.

“They offered up some changes that we accepted, we offered up changes they accepted and we realized it was a really fair contract negotiation,” he said. “And fiscally responsible for our taxpayers.”

According to the agreement salaries would not increase for two years, then rise by 0.75% in the third and fourth years and by 1% in years five and six of the contract.

Riverhead Central Faculty Association president Greg Wallace said in an interview Tuesday that the district’s salary schedule was reimagined as part of the negotiations.

“It makes it more stable for the district for budgeting” in the tax cap era, he said.

The unprecedented move will see funds redistributed among employees without increasing the total cost. 

“Increases in contracts were not regular and systematic,” Mr. Wallace explained, noting that changes to the state’s retirement system mean the newest hires will not be eligible for retirement until they turn 62. That delay means teachers see increases in the first several years of their career, but must wait longer for raises later in their careers.

“Smoothing” the schedule, Mr. Wallace said, will allow for that mobility later on. “It’s the same pie, just distributed differently,” he said.

Holding back salary increases for the first two years, Mr. Meyer said, is important. “That was big for us on the Board of Ed side, because we just don’t know what state aid is going to do. That put us in a really comfortable spot.”

He also supported the changes to the pay schedule. “It basically works out to be the same, but they wanted certain jumps in their steps throughout certain years of their career,” he said.

The contract also allows for increases in the stipends paid to coaches and advisers for extracurricular activities. No increase is proposed for year one, but rates will increase by 1.25% in years two and three and 1.50% in years four, five and six.

Employees hired before June 30, 1996, will now be required to contribute more than 10% toward their health insurance costs, starting with 12% in the first year incrementally increasing to 20% in year five of the contract.

Mr. Wallace said teachers hired after 1996 already pay 20% of their health insurance costs.

Contributions made by the district to an individual member benefit fund will also increase, from $1,200 to $1,300 next year, $1,375 in the second year,$1,450 in the third year, $1,525 in the fourth year, $1,550 in the fifth year and $1,575 in year six of the agreement.

According to Mr. Wallace, the union made “significant concessions” by agreeing to increase health insurance contributions and eliminate both a district-paid flexible benefit for members and a 9% guidance counselor stipend.

Mr. Wallace said negotiations were far from simple. “We were cognizant of the fact that even before the pandemic, there’s a lot of extra financial pressures in Riverhead with less state aid — and we have a charter school. So we had that in mind.”

In addition to the new contract, the Board of Education voted Tuesday to accept a second memorandum of agreement with the teachers union to extend a retirement incentive agreement adopted Oct. 7, 2019, to June 20.

Mr. Meyer also said it was important the contract was negotiated before the current union contract expires this month. “There were provisions in their contract that, come July 1, would have cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.