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Income gains offset insurance

Juenger: Concessions made on both sides

Published: Saturday, March 23, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

DIXON – Sandi Sodergren-Baar defended the retirement perk that remained in the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement with the school board.

This perk was one of a handful of items the union had made clear during negotiations that it wanted to keep in the contract, which was finalized Wednesday. The contract came after a teachers strike that canceled nine days of classes.

The Dixon Education Association president said the annual 4 percent salary increases in the 4 years leading to retirement not only provide an incentive to retire, but also open the door for new teachers to enter the system.

“That’s so important with the cuts we’re seeing all over,” Sodergren-Baar said of the benefit offered to teachers who are 54½ years old and have at least 10 years in the district. “We have an older staff, and that opens more positions for younger teachers, which will come in at a lower salary.”

That retirement benefit, however, will end – but not until the day before the 4-year contract expires. The board had wanted to phase it out.

The union will have to negotiate that perk back into the contract if is to continue.

“Once one side has something out of the contract, it makes it harder to bring back in,” said Superintendent Michael Juenger, explaining the reasoning for the perk expiring the day before the contract ends. “Typically, the other side has to make a concession to bring it in.”

Concessions were made on both sides, Juenger said, which finally led to an agreement after a year of negotiations and the 9-day work stoppage.

For one, teachers agreed to pay more for their health insurance so they could get a salary increase.

Before the strike occurred, Juenger said, the board wanted to reach an agreement that redistributed the cost of teacher raises by asking teachers to pay higher health insurance premiums.

Salary was a sticking point during talks, and the final pay scale was close to the middle between the two sides’ initial offers. The board started by asking for a hard freeze, and teachers asked for a 4 percent increase, plus the yearly steps.

Teachers were coming off a soft freeze in their last contract, meaning only those who qualified for step increases, based on experience or education, received pay increases averaging about 2 percent.

In the new deal, teachers will receive a 2 percent bonus within 31 days to make up for working this year on the last contract’s pay schedule.

In each of the next 2 years, teachers will receive a 2 percent raise, plus step increases.

The final year of the contract will give teachers a 1 percent raise, plus step increases.

Teachers who have maxed out at the highest step will receive a $1,000 payment this year and $1,500 in each of the next 3 years.

Juenger said each percentage point added to the salary schedule costs the district about $80,000, for a total of about $1.2 million over 4 years. He said he does not yet have a figure for the total cost of the contract to the district.

Teachers will pay more in health insurance premiums over the final 3 years of the deal.

In 2012, the district paid about $3.92 million in health costs and $437,486 in excess premiums. Because the district is self-insured, it is hard to determine the savings in health costs, Juenger said.

By the end of the contract, teachers with single coverage will go from paying a maximum premium of $50 a month to $80, and teachers with family coverage will go from a maximum premium of $150 a month to $230.

A section in the contract that addresses special education is new, including creation of a joint advisory committee with board and union representatives to address possible concerns about that program.

Also, the DEA gained four members on the Professional Relations Committee, going from three members to seven. That committee discusses matters relating to class sizes, curriculum and instruction, classroom resources, student discipline, professional development, and safety. It now consists of the superintendent, one administrator, a board member, the DEA president, the DEA vice president and a DEA member from each school building.

Each side shied from labeling a winner or a loser.

Sodergren-Baar called the final deal “a good and sound one,” even if both sides made some unwanted concessions.

“It’s one of those things where each side walked away unhappy, meaning it must’ve been a pretty good contract,” Juenger said.

Board President Tom Balser said he was just thankful students were back in school.

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