Somerset approves teachers contract
School board members approved a tentative three-year teachers contract Monday between Somerset Area School District and the Somerset Area Education Association. (Staff photo by Katie Walker / April 16, 2012)
The agreement, which extends from July 1, 2011, until June 30, 2014, provides $178,000 in health insurance savings to the district during the first year through plan restructuring. Under the terms of the contract, the teachers will be responsible for deductibles of $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for families.
Deductibles under the previous contract were $350 for individuals and $700 for families. Co-pays would increase in several areas. The district would cover premium costs.
Superintendent Krista Mathias said savings will remain approximately the same during the following two years depending on employee enrollment.
The district has 185 teachers. Only eight of those teachers fully utilized the family health care deductible during the past school year, according to Somerset Area Education Association President Scott Dunlap.
"One of the reasons we could do this is because we had such relatively low employees utilizing the deductible to the full extent," Dunlap said. "Employees have had a good health care experience."
Under the terms of the new agreement, the average raise for teachers holding bachelor's degrees would be $1,001 during the first year of the contract. Salaries are based on a 20-step scale.
During the second year of the agreement, teachers would receive a $993 raise. Teachers would receive a $1,370 raise during the third year of the contract.
One of the concessions teachers made was a salary freeze for teachers who have 21 or more years of experience during the first two years of the contract. Those teachers would receive a $500 salary increase during the third year of the contract.
"Anyone who understands contracts will understand that when there is a freeze at the top of the scale for two years in a row and a $500 increase in the third year, that is extremely minimal," Mathias said. "It's quite a concession on the part of the association."
The union approved the contract earlier Monday.
"The representatives from the teachers union said the vote was overwhelmingly positive to affirm the tentative agreement," Mathias said. "I believe this agreement represents significant compromises on the part of our teaching staff, and it's my opinion they were willing to make compromises for the benefit of the taxpayers and our district. Teachers were very patient with the district as we've navigated through these difficult financial times."
Other items in the contract include removal of co-curricular adviserships. The agreement eliminates extra pay for teachers with master's degrees that are not in the employee's area of assignment. The contract also eliminates extra pay for teachers holding master's equivalencies and teachers who have credits beyond their master's degrees.
Mathias said uncertainty in the district's state subsidy for the upcoming year made it difficult to reach an agreement. The teachers union has been working under the terms of the old contract while negotiating an agreement during the past 16 months.
"I think this agreement really adds to the financial stability of the district," Mathias said. "It gives us a lot of confidence moving forward."
Mathias said the district is still in the process of doing research to offer a district-operated cyber school option. Mathias said the district expects to spend more than $800,000 on cyber school tuition this year.
"Until we really have our ducks in a row about how to do that, we didn't want to put that language into the contract," she said. "But we will be getting that ready over the summer. The district would operate the cyber school, but our instructors would provide the instruction."
In other business, the board approved the sales of the former Friedens and Sipesville elementary schools.
Scott Zimmerman of Friedens, owner of Piles Concrete, bought Friedens Elementary School for $150,000 and Tom Flannery, of Lincoln Township, bought Sipesville Elementary School for $137,500 at a public auction last month.
"It was a bittersweet thing to have to sell the two buildings," Mathias said. "It's one-time money that will benefit the district in some way. The sale of the buildings doesn't make or break this year's budget. Obviously, getting them back on the tax rolls is a positive thing for the district."