Teachers, district close to contract agreement

by Tom Coombe

Representatives of the Ely School Board and the local teachers union are near agreement on a new two-year contract.<BR><BR>The pay scale for Ely faculty members would increase by one percent each year while current benefits would remain the same in a contract that covers both the current school year and 2004-2005.<BR><BR>But the deal isn’t ready for ratification by either the school board or the union rank-and-file just yet, according to district superintendent Ray Toutloff.<BR><BR>A contract language issue still needs to be worked out, Toutloff said Thursday.<BR><BR>“We’re close,” said Toutloff. “There’s only one issue that’s in contention.”<BR><BR>But union leaders and board negotiators have reached accord on the rest of the deal, following several negotiation sessions, including one last Monday.<BR><BR>After raises of four and 3.75 percent the last two years, the union team agreed to smaller increases on the salary scale in order to maintain a benefit package that - according to Toutloff - is one of the best in the state.<BR><BR>The district covers 85 percent of health insurance premium payments for all teachers with family coverage, and all teachers hired before July 1, 2002 receive retiree health benefits.<BR><BR>Union representatives have said their members pushed to maintain the benefit package at the expense of salary hikes.<BR><BR>And though current terms call for matching one percent increases on the pay scale, further raises could be granted if school reserves grow during the course of the contract.<BR><BR>“There’s language that if our unreserved fund balance increased, that increase would go on to the salary schedule,” said Toutloff. “We made it very clear that we didn’t expect an increase in the fund balance. With declining enrollment and losses in revenue, our fund balance is gong down, but stranger things have happened. If something happens in the legislature to give our district more money it may happen, but it’s a long, long shot.”<BR><BR>The contract would also call for raises to be granted if insurance premium increases are less than 10 percent.<BR><BR>Health insurance costs have risen by 10 percent or more several times during the last few years.<BR><BR>The district’s insurance tab exceeds $1 million per year, about one-sixth of the annual budget.<BR><BR>Current pay for Ely’s teachers ranges from a minimum of $28,070, with incremental increases each year up to $48,136 for those with at least 13 years of experience. Additional pay hikes are granted for longevity and those who complete further college course work. Those at the top of the scale earn from $48,136 to $55,412. Teacher compensation is based on a 180-day, 1,260-hour work year.<BR><BR>