Board, teachers ratify new contract

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Three-year deal calls for status quo, then 3% raises, givebacks on health care in next two years

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — It’s all over, even the shouting, although there was a bit of that at the end.

The Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education and its teachers union formally ratified a new three-year contract through the 2012-13 school year, Monday night, ending some 16 months of difficult, often contentious negotiations.

The deal calls for a salary freeze during the first year of the deal, which covers the 2010-11 school year — essentially codifying the status quo that existed during negotiations after the previous contract expired June 30, 2010. The final two years of the deal call for modest raises and continuation of traditional seniority and education increases coupled with givebacks on health insurance by the teachers.

“I think doubt you’ll find anyone jumping up and down about this deal,” said board Vice President Frank Murphy, the board’s lead negotiator, moments before the board voted 6-2, to accept the deal. “This is a compromise.”

His counterpart across the table, Pat Clark, president of the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association, the teachers’ union, agreed.

“There were sacrifices on both sides,” said Clark, whose union approved the deal by a large margin in a pair of votes Monday. “That’s what a negotiation is.”

The gross compensation number for the three years of the contract is $103.6 million, $500,000 higher than the proposed deal offered by fact-finder Mariann E. Schick, which the board accepted in Janaury, but the teachers rejected. It calls for a 1% salary increase, along with seniority and education increases. The second year calls for a .4% increase, again with seniority and education increases, plus a $700 bonus that doesn’t count toward pension compensation. The net is about a 3% yearly increase in the second and third years — or a net 2% increase over the entire term of the deal.

The teachers agreed to change from a Personal Choice plan to a Keystone health care plan (although teachers can opt to buy in to the same plan they had in 2010-11, or a somewhat less expensive plan that sits between the previous plan and the Keystone plan). The teachers will contribute 7.5% to premiums in the first year and 10% in the second year. There were some increases in out-of-pocket costs on prescriptions, but some dental benefits were increased. The district is expected to save both from reduced costs of premiums as well as larger employee contributions.

Although board members admit they weren’t thrilled with the final numbers, most said they felt that the deal would be fiscally sustainable and allow the district to keep tax increase to or below the Act 1 state tax increase limits.

“If things stay the way they are,” board finance chair Keith Knauss said, “it (any tax increase caused by the new contract) will be within the Act I index.”

But board support wasn’t unanimous. Board member Eileen Bushelow objected to the health care plans — suggesting that as they were out of synch with deals given to other district employees, and she said she couldn’t support the deal.

Paul Price was much more vehement, however, saying the deal was financially irresponsible and that the district would be better off maintaining the status quo. He read a lengthy statement during the meeting, explaining his objections, noting that the deal would lead to large district fiscal deficits in the coming years.

“This is a terrible agreement, it’s not sustainable,” he said.

Price’s colleagues were quick to dispute his numbers.

“It’s interesting how Dr. Price and I can look at the same information and come up with different conclusions,” Knauss said, suggesting that Price was resorting to “scary rhetoric” in his opposition of the deal. Knauss cited reductions in head count, and improvements in efficiency as rendering some of the projections unfairly pessimistic.

Board member Jeff Hellrung noted that the first year of the deal is already paid for and because some of the board’s fiscal assumptions turned out to be conservative, the district finished the 2010-11 school year with a surplus, making it somewhat easier to absorb cost increases. He also noted that the deal represents a .9% increase in the budget over keeping the status quo.

“Is it worth .9% for labor peace?” he asked. “That’s an easy decision. Yes.”

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