Contentious dispute ends as Hampshire Regional schools, union settle on contract

Hampshire Regional High School teacher Warren Smith stands with other teachers and staff advocating for a fair contract in September 2023. The Hampshire Regional Education Association and the Regional School Committee recently settled the contract after more than a year of negotiations.

Hampshire Regional High School teacher Warren Smith stands with other teachers and staff advocating for a fair contract in September 2023. The Hampshire Regional Education Association and the Regional School Committee recently settled the contract after more than a year of negotiations. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 04-23-2024 4:55 PM

Modified: 04-23-2024 8:14 PM


WESTHAMPTON — After over a year of contentious negotiations and 224 days without a contract, Hampshire Regional Education Association and the School Committee have agreed to a contract.

The tentative contract between the school district and the 109-member union representing teachers, paraprofessionals and administrative assistants includes 20 days of parental leave for both teachers and educational support staff, the first substantial parental leave for educational staff in western Massachusetts, according to Greg Reynolds, HREA’s co-president.

The new contract, agreed to on April 12, gives all staff cost-of-living adjustments above 2% for the first time in 16 years.

“It feels amazing,” Reynolds said about the agreement. “As a union, it was a process that helped build capacity and engagement. I would hope because of the work that we’ve done and the level of engagement from community members, parents and alums, there’s going to be a better awareness of contract negotiations in the future.”

Hampshire Regional School Committee Chair Tom Cleary Jr. did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Teachers and educational support professionals, specifically paraprofessionals and administrative assistants, can use the 20 days of parental leave during the birth or adoption of a child. New parents can use the benefit however they see fit, including bonding with their child. If new parents require more time, staff can also use up to 20 days of sick leave and teachers can use 20 days granted under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“The reason we have to negotiate above the law is because we have over 20 employees who don’t qualify for FLMA, which is why we are very proud to have done this through unified bargaining,” Reynolds said.

Due to the absence of a contract for the current school year, the agreement is broken into a one-year contract with a 2.5% raise for teachers, paraprofessionals and administrative assistants, and a three-year pact through fiscal year 2027. The retroactive raises for this year will be available to staff within six weeks of the School Committee’s ratification vote on May 6.

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In the three-year contract, teachers will receive cost-of-living adjustments of 3% in year one, 3% in year two and 3% in year three. Educational support staff will get a 3% increase in year one, 4% in year two and 4% in year three.

“The only time the School Committee showed us different numbers for teachers and paraprofessionals were the very last proposal they gave us, and it was them accepting our proposal,” Reynolds said.

The School Committee previously offered annual raises of 2.5%, 2.5% and 2.5% over the next three years, which was higher than previous offers, including an original offer of 1%, 1% and 2% hikes.

Many educators at Hampshire Regional are veteran teachers who are already at the top of the pay scale and won’t receive substantial raises besides cost-of-living increases. The new contract will give teachers at the top two steps of the pay scale an extra 1% raise in fiscal year 2026.

“In many ways that’s a substantial financial ask because many teachers will benefit from that, upwards of 60 I believe,” Reynolds said.

Negotiations for the new contract were long and particularly tense. Parents, students, Hampshire Regional alumni and other community members spoke at multiple School Committee meetings and showed up at HREA-led rallies to support the teachers and staff. Over 2,500 letters were sent to the School Committee through the platform Action Network.

The new agreement is pending ratification by both the union and the district. Reynolds hopes the union will vote to ratify on Thursday, depending on the speed at which the legal language of the contract is finalized with the School Committee’s legal team. The committee is scheduled to vote on May 6.

“Right now our task is to thank people for their support and tell them to take down their reb ‘fair contract’ signs,” Reynolds said.

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettnet.com.