In the arena with Chris Collins: Teachers’ pay and an accessibility study for Greenfield Library


Published: 1/24/2020 10:12:28 AM
Modified: 1/24/2020 10:12:17 AM

School committee members in the Union 38 district are seeing red these days, and it’s not because the Chiefs and 49ers are about to play each other in the Super Bowl.

The Union 38 teacher’s union has been showing up en masse in red shirts at school board meetings in an effort to pressure the district to approve a new contract, one that they hope will close the gap between what they make compared to their counterparts at Frontier Regional School.

“A teacher at Frontier with the same amount of education and experience, teaching the same community of students, makes $3,964 dollars more than I do,” Deerfield Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Denise Dejnak told the school committee recently.

“That same Frontier teacher pays $2,730 less for a family medical plan than we do in our contract,” Dejnak added. “That’s a difference of $6,694 for doing basically the same work.”

Some would argue the work of an elementary school teacher is that much harder. If you don’t believe that, try filling in as a substitute which I did a few years back. It’s not an easy gig, one I’m sure is made that much tougher when one has to look across the parking lot to a building where your counterparts are making almost seven grand more.

Unfortunately, it’s not a new phenomenon in Union 38, nor is it one that will be easy to change. This particular disparity dates back to the district’s earliest days, when it was somewhat difficult to attract teachers to work in regional schools, necessitating the need for a better benefit and salary package.

But that was then. Today, elementary school teachers argue it’s a different world and more expensive world, and they should be paid on par with their middle and high counterparts. And they say they aren’t asking for the pay gap to be eliminated entirely, but they do want to see progress in that direction with this new contract.

Unfortunately, the economic realities facing their member towns may make that difficult. It’s not like there is a ton of extra money lying around in Conway, Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately. That’s especially the case in Sunderland, where they’ve had to pass budget balancing overrides over the last few years, the last of which passed by a razor thin margin.

I know there is hope that the recently passed new education reform law is going to pump a bunch of new money into the system statewide, but something tells me it’s not going to wind up being the windfall some hope. It was revealed at this week’s Sunderland School Committee meeting that the town’s share is likely to be around $6,000, which, as was pointed out, isn’t enough to pay even half of a teaching assistant’s position, much less fund a new union contract.

Standing in the middle of the fray is new Frontier and Union 38 Superintendent Darius Modestow, who has expressed optimism that a deal will be reached soon, Until then, expect the “red swarm” to continue as south county teachers continue to fight for the pay parity they feel is long overdue.

No library study

The accessibility issues at the current Greenfield Public Library building are apparently not as serious as first thought.

I’m not sure what else can be inferred from the Greenfield City Council’s decision to table a $150,000 library feasibility study, a move which was made at the recommendation of new Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, who told the council that the city is aware enough of the structural and code issues facing the facility that no further study is needed at this time.

Wedegartner didn’t say there aren’t issues with the building. She said there is a list of problems of which the city is aware and preparing to address, without the need to spend the additional $150,000. And while that may make good fiscal sense, I’m not sure it’s going to mollify opponents of the new library, who are still grousing that the accessibility gloom and doom scenarios floated during the most recent election weren’t much more than a political “bait-and-switch” intended to ensure that the funding for the library passed.

No amount of complaining in the world is going to overturn that vote, or change the fact that Greenfield needs and is going to have a new library. The big question facing this mayor and council is where to put the fire station to make room for that library, which may wind up being a whole lot more difficult and expensive than anyone realizes.

Chris Collins has covered Franklin County politics for over two decades on a number of media platforms. He can be reached at


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