A disheartened group of Watertown teachers filed out of the Council Chambers last night after the School Committee voted 5-3 to reject the proposed teachers contract Monday night.
The proposal, which would have provided a 1.5 percent raise next year, had been agreed upon after more than a year of negotiations between school officials and the Watertown Educators Association, and ultimately work with a mediator.
Those voting against the deal, however, said the town could not afford the contract, and it would lead to the loss of too many teaching jobs.
Before the vote, Debra King, a Hosmer teacher and president of the WEA, said the agreement approved by the teachers was the least favorable one ever approved by the union. After the tentative agreement was reached, King said she worried about getting approval from the teachers.
“They trusted us and voted to approve the contract and we expect the School Committee to do the same,” King said.
She added that the teachers made a concession to the town by changing the health care system and paying more for the insurance.
Town Manager Michael Driscoll, who had a vote on the contract, said that all the other unions in town had to agree to the health insurance change, and they also agreed to two years of no raises, while the teachers would have only one year with no wage increase.
Town Council President Mark Sideris, who also sits on the School Committee, said to pay for the contract the district would have to lay off eight teachers this year to pay for the raises and another 8 to 16 the following year. That would not be acceptable.
"That, to me, devastates the education provided to the children of Watertown," Sideris said.
The three members of the School Committee who sat on the negotiating team – Anthony Paolillo, John Portz and David Leon – threw their support behind the contract.
Portz said he voted for the memorandum of agreement with the union because he believed it was the best deal under the circumstances.
“Without going much longer (in negotiations) – six months, nine months, maybe more – we would not get an agreement that might have lower cost, and I felt that might be disruptive,” Portz said.
Eileen Hsu-Balzer was one of the School Committee members to vote against the contract, but said she was choosing between two unpalatable choices.
“I don’t want to squander any more trust or goodwill fighting about a decision that will not vanquish our financial woes even if we reject it, nor do I want to save teaching positions by damaging the trust we have built with them,” Hsu-Balzer said.
School Committee member Laurie McManus said her decision came down to the district’s finances.
“At the end of the day, if the town cannot afford it, how can we possibly pass it,” McManus said.