The Warrensburg Central School District and the local teachers union have agreed to an employment contract, ending a two-year stalemate. The new contract calls for slim salary increases on top of the annual routine 'step' increases, offset by a marginal increase in health insurance contributions. Shown is the Warrensburg Elementary School on James St.
Ending a contentious two-year negotiation process, the Warrensburg Central School District and the local teachers union agreed to a new work contract.
Warrensburg Central’s teachers voted in favor of the contract late last week, and the local Board of Education approved it Monday Jan. 14.
The contract calls for a small increase in union members’ contributions toward health insurance premiums and curtails a former privilege of retiring teachers to reduce or eliminate their continuing health insurance expenses by applying accrued sick time towards their portion, as guaranteed in the former contract.
The contract also calls for a slim annual increase in wages on top of the teachers’ annual “step” increase.
Contribution rates for health insurance will increase to 12 percent for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, and increase to 13 percent for 2014-15. Through 2011-12, teachers were contributing 10 percent of their health insurance premiums.
Except for teachers who have reached the lifetime co-pay amount for the Matrix plan, teachers opting to receive benefits from the district will move to the less expensive Preferred Provider Option plan offered by the regional BOCES consortium.
Those teachers choosing to remain in the Matrix plan who have not met the lifetime co-pay threshold must pay the difference between the PPO and Matrix plans.
Warrensburg Central Superintendent of Schools Tim Lawson said that the contract provides long-term savings to the district through curtailing retiree’s options concerning health care premium payoffs.
Retiring teachers will now contribute to health insurance plans at the same rate that they were contributing at the time of their retirement, rather than being able to use unused sick leave to reduce or eliminate their portion of the insurance premiums.
Offsetting the concessions is a modest increase in the salary schedule. Salaries are to increase 1 percent in the 2012-13 year and another 1 percent in 2013-14, then 1.25 percent in the 2014-15 year. The agreement calls for zero increase in salary during the 2011-12 school year.
These salary increases are on top of the “step” increases that are granted each year that average just under 2 percent. In Warrensburg, these step increases conclude at 26 years of service.
Lawson said these increases are comparable to the amounts agreed to recently in the settlements in the Lake George, Bolton Landing and Granville schools.
“I think both sides spent a fair number of hours and a lot of hard work to reach this agreement,” Lawson said Tuesday Jan. 15.
The teachers' former five-year contract expired June 30, 2011. Negotiations had started six months earlier. By Fall 2011, negotiations were at an impasse, and a Public Employee Relations Board mediator was brought in to work with the two sides on a settlement. The PERB mediator worked with the parties three times over 2012, but no settlement was reached. In late fall, an attorney for the district and a labor relations specialist from the state teachers’ union continued to guide negotiations, Lawson said.
“Both parties feel this is is a fair agreement,” he said.
Warrensburg Teachers Association president Marc Mularz offered his comments Jan. 15 via email. He said that the settlement was faair considering the current economic climate.
“The teachers were very supportive of the agreement and recognized that concessions were necessary due to the continued underfunding of education by the state government,” he said. “Hopefully the state will see fit to restore education funding to at least the level of two years ago so that we can cease this spiral of reduced opportunities for students.”
In the expired contract, a teacher that retired with 300 unused sick days could be paid cash for 200 of them and use the remaining 100 to permanently “buy down” their health insurance premiums, subtracting 1 percent for every 10 days accrued. Lawson said a fair number of teachers were doing this, and many effectively had no health insurance costs.
The annual total cost of health insurance for an employee for the Matrix family plan is $24,000, and $20,000 for the PPO family plan. The cost for an individual Matrix plan is $8,300 and for $7,000 for the individual PPO plan, District Business Manager Cindy Turcotte said. She estimated that the conversion to the PPO plan and increase in employee contributions would result initially in a savings of $20,000 for the first year and $80,000 for each year thereafter. The school district currently pays about $3.6 million annually in health insurance expenses for its active employees and retirees, she added.
Lawson said that overall, the new contract wouldn’t yield a substantial immediate savings, but would lessen the load on taxpayers over the long run.
“The projected long-term savings are significant, particularly with the projected future rate increases,” he said.