Anne Arundel County teachers accepted yesterday a two-year agreement that will give them a new health plan option, but no cost-of-living raises.
The agreement was reached nine months after negotiations began and 17 days after the previous contract expired.
"We're happy with the agreement," said Charles LoCasio, executive director of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, which represents about 4,500 teachers. "There's no cost-of-living raise, but we can reopen the issue in the second year of the contract."
Joseph Foster, newly elected board president, said he was pleased with the agreement, too.
"This means things are progressing well," he said. "Everybody compromised a little bit, and we seem to have come up with something workable. The disagreements we had were just the nature of bargaining."
Bargaining began Oct. 5 and stalled in January with a declaration of impasse from both sides and the state superintendent.
Union and school board representatives didn't begin talking again until spring, after an arbitrator sided with the union and recommended teachers get a 2 percent cost-of-living raise.
Board members said they could not afford to give a raise, which would have cost $5.4 million. Union leaders accused the board of trying to bust the union by trying to remove key provisions in the contract, including a Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plan considered top-of-the-line.
The atmosphere was more conciliatory with yesterday's announcement.
"There are different viewpoints from each side," Mr. Foster said. "The unions are trying to get more and more, and we're trying to balance the needs of employees and the needs of students, and on top of it all we're constrained by economic limitations."
The contract allows the union to reopen negotiations on salaries and health care after the first year.
In addition to keeping the "traditional Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plan," the contract includes "a new option called Point of Service," Mr. LoCasio said.
Such plans operate similarly to health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, but also pay a portion of the cost for a visit to a doctor who is not affiliated with the organization.