Colchester School District support staff and the school board have agreed on a contract that provides an average yearly wage increase around 3 percent for the next three years.

The deal gives a 2.99 percent, 3.1 percent and 3.2 percent raise for the years 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21 respectively.

The new agreement comes off the heels of the prior contact, which required union members to repay wages once it was ratified. The negotiated amount was 16 cents per hour lower than the raise the district provided while contract talks progressed.

“That left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths,” said Amy Latulippe, a union negotiator and Colchester Middle School autism interventionist. “But everybody’s happy that there’s no repayment, and we can all move forward.”

The board ratified the contract at its Sept. 18 meeting, and the Colchester Education Association Support Staff Union followed on September 26. The language and terms, including health insurance, are largely the same as its predecessor, and only a couple major things changed, according to superintendent Amy Minor.

Those included the annual wage increase and pay for food service workers and paraeducators who substitute for higher positions. If a food service worker fills in for the head cook, he or she will now receive an additional dollar per hour, Minor said. Likewise, if a paraeducator subs for a behavior interventionist, they will receive higher pay.

“Since those are different job descriptions, we wanted the rate of pay to reflect the roles and responsibilities of that position,” Minor said.

Negotiations began in February 2018 and included work with a neutral mediator.

“[There were] ups and downs and a typical back and forth until we got to a reasonable middle ground,” school board chairman Mike Rogers said. He added the board was cognizant of the support staff’s payback concerns and ensured it would not happen again.

According to Rogers, CSD’s support staff wages are mid-range compared to other area schools. However, he said, it’s tough to balance salaries while remaining accountable to the budget and taxpayers.

“Obviously we’re concerned that our employees are certainly paid on an appropriate level and in conjunction with other school districts,” Rogers said. “We want us to be competitive, and we think we are.”

But, both Rogers and Latulippe agreed it’s been difficult to find new support staff in recent years.

“All the surrounding districts are struggling to find employees because, sadly, places like McDonald’s and other fast food chains will pay more per hour to start out than the schools,” Latulippe said.

Rogers attributed the difficulty to high job vacancy in education and other occupations across the state.

However, both parties agree the three-year contract will appeal to prospective hires. There’s comfort knowing the consecutive pay rate as opposed to wondering year-to-year, Latulippe said.

The multi-year contract also saves time in negotiating a deal annually, Rogers said.

While negotiations weren’t easy, according to Latulippe, the support staff is happy to have reached an agreement.

“The board represents the town, and we represent the staff and it’s trying to find that happy medium between all,” she said. “We worked together, we hammered out a deal and we tried to keep it as respectful as we could.”