After the decision was read out loud from the dais for everyone to hear, a chorus of cheers and clapping filled the room as the members of the Saugus Teachers Union celebrated the district’s approval of a long-awaited bargaining agreement.
According to Debbie Rocha, the Saugus Teachers Association president, the calls for joy were because the SUSD board of trustees had accepted provisions regarding the Supplemental Employee Retirement Plan (SERP).
“Negotiations started two years ago and we’re thrilled the board is moving forward with SERP,” said Rocha. “The talk was they were going to lay people off.”
The SERP program works, according to officials, by avoiding teacher layoffs through incentivizing veteran teachers, who have reached 55 years old and have been with the district for at least five years, with the option to take a financial buyout and go into voluntary retirement.
“You have to be willing to commit, and in return you get a percentage of one year’s salary,” said Rocha.
And for districts like the SUSD, which are already facing declining enrollment numbers, insufficient funding from the state and a low rate of traditional teacher retirement, the negotiations would only be successful if enough teachers accepted the SERP incentive offer.
Officials said over 80 district employees had expressed their willingness to accept SERP retirement incentive offers, and STA leaders argued that with all those all salaries being eventually taken off the budget in a few years, the district would be able to meet their target budget goals.
District officials agreed that with the “sufficient participation” being shown by dozens of veteran teachers, they had to acknowledge the $2.9 million the district would save, according to the language of the resolution.
“It has been determined to be in the best fiscal interest of the Saugus Union School District and its employees to provide a retirement incentive offer to eligible employees who wish to voluntarily exercise their option to separate from district service,” the finalizing resolution read.
The good news didn’t stop there for the STA, as Superintendent Colleen Hawkins was able to say that because of the approval of the SERP resolution’s cost-saving measures, they could freeze talks about teacher layoffs or “reductions in force,” also known as RIFs.
“We don’t have to talk about the ‘R’ word anymore because we’ve made a goal,” said Hawkins. “The SERP was never there for the district to make money or to save money … it was there for us to come up with a better solution … for when districts need to make sure they’re fiscally soluble.”
“We can (now) go back to thinking about instruction and not worrying about where we’re all going to be next year,” Hawkins said.
After Hawkins spoke, the STA members left the boardroom to celebrate outside, despite the rain.