After nearly a year’s worth of negotiations, the Martha’s Vineyard Educators Association and the All-Island School Committee have signed new contracts covering teachers and educational support personnel for the next three years.

“This was a long journey to reach agreement [between] a lot of passionate, committed people,” said school superintendent Dr. Richard (Richie) Smith, at an online meeting that drew more than 80 people Thursday night.

“Both sides really wanted to make sure we reached agreement, and saw that the longer we waited, the worse it felt,” Mr. Smith said.

School system finance director Mark Friedman said he’s not sure whether the new contracts will trigger a future Proposition 2 1/2 override in one or more of the five Island towns with schools.

“These percentages … are a bit higher than we’ve seen in the past, but this was a very unusual time to be negotiating, with the economic context of inflation,” Mr. Friedman said.

“I don’t know if these will necessarily trigger [Prop.] 2 1/2 decisions in any towns,” he continued. “The school budget is one part of a much larger budget in each town.”

There’s no problem in 2022-2023, Mr. Friedman added.

“We have fully budgeted for the effect of these agreements in this fiscal year, so I don’t anticipate any unexpected adverse effects on the budget for this year,” he said.

Budgeting for the two following fiscal years is where the challenge lies, Mr. Friedman told the school committee.

“I am confident it can be done, and without too jarring an effect on the towns,” he said.

The new contracts provide an 8 per cent cost of living pay increase for educators over the three years, along with a one-time, $1,000 Covid bonus.

Among other changes, the school district is restructuring its step system for calculating raises, eliminating the two bottom steps in the first year of the contract and adding a new top step in the second year, Mr. Smith said.

The contract for educational support professionals (ESPs) also includes the cost of living increases and $1,000 bonus, with an even more comprehensive revision of its step system. The contract eliminates lower steps so that ESPs start at a higher salary, and then adds higher steps to prevent salary plateaus.

In the contract’s first year, the old step five becomes the new step one, with three more added over the next two years for a total of eight salary steps, each worth a $250 raise.

The hourly difference for ESPs working with students who have intensive special needs has risen from $4 to $5.

To encourage more ESPs to become teachers, the new contract commits to reimbursements for training toward obtaining a teachers license.

“We’ve got some very high quality ESPs who I think would be natural teachers,” Mr. Smith said.

Among other business Thursday, the school committee grilled Mr. Smith on his plans for about $80,000 in salary savings from his former assistant superintendent’s position, which went unfilled for three months and is now three-quarters staffed by Marge Harris and John Stevens.

Mr. Smith asked to spend most of the savings on personnel, including a $4,000 vocal music coordinator for all Island schoolchildren, $20,000 for a special education teacher and up to $10,000 for workers in Mr. Friedman’s office, to help the finance director to keep up with routine district purchases as he gets more involved in building projects.

Committee chair Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter opposed filling new positions mid-year, saying they should be created and approved as part of the budget process.

But Mr. Smith said the need was too urgent to wait.

“Because you’re not in our schools … on an everyday basis, you’re not seeing the staffing shortage that we’re going through,” he told the committee. “When I see that there are needs and I see that our staff is stressed, I’m going to do all I can to fulfill that need and bring relief to our staff.”

With Mr. Manter voting nay, the rest of the school committee supported Mr. Smith’s requests with the proviso that Mr. Friedman’s office help be paid a stipend, rather than wages, for the additional work.