Teacher contracts often allowed to expire

| Glens Falls Post-Star

Lake George teachers and administrators recently agreed to a new three-year contract a few days before the current one expired — a timeliness that is rare for school district labor agreements.

The Board of Education approved the new pact at its June 24 meeting. Lake George is one of only two districts in The Post-Star’s coverage area with teacher contracts that expired at the end of last month to have reached a new agreement. School labor contracts follow the school year, which ends June 30.

A major change in health insurance will save the Lake George Central School District more than a half-million dollars over the life of the agreement, according to Superintendent Patrick Dee. He credited the teachers’ willingness to negotiate for the smooth passage of the agreement.

“They recognized that changes needed to be made in health insurance and that really helped us to be able to move this forward a whole lot quicker,” he said.

Both parties began negotiations in December and met two to three times a week. The goal was to get everything done before the fall, so the year could start on a positive note, Dee added.

“Neither side dug their heals in,” he said.

Retired employees will be shifting from its Matrix plan to a preferred provider organization plan, which has a lower premium. The old plan required no co-pays for doctor visits or prescriptions, according to Dee. Now, retired employees will pay the same co-pays as the current employees.

The plan will save the district $153,000 in the first year, nearly $170,000 in the second year and more than $180,000 in the final year.

Also, active employees are increasing their contribution to the premium from the current 12 percent to 12.5 percent in 2014-2015, 13.25 percent in 2015-2016 and 14 percent in 2016-2017. For new employees hired after July 1, the rates will be 16 percent, 16.5 percent and 17 percent for each of those years.

The agreement contains raises of 1.85 percent in the first year, 1.47 percent in the second and 1.26 percent in the third.

The new agreement also increases the “step” salaries that teachers receive for each additional year of service. Teachers on steps one through 10 will get $1,000 more than the current salary schedule. Those that are on step 11 through 20 and beyond will get $1,200 more.

The salary for a first-year teacher is $39,990 and a 20-year veteran would receive $69,110. This does not include additional bonuses for having a master’s degree or doctorate.

While Lake George is the only approved contract, according to a review of local school board meeting minutes, the Essex County district of Newcomb has also reached an agreement with its teachers union, according to the April 1 minutes. Superintendent Clark Hults said in the monthly newsletter the agreement would be for five years.

It is not common for school districts to reach an on-time or early agreement on a new contract with their teachers unions. Under the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law, the terms of the existing contract remain in effect until a new agreement is ratified. Teachers continue to receive their step raises.

Critics of Triborough say it creates little urgency from teachers to reach a new deal.

Greenwich teachers are still working under the terms of a contract that expired more than four years ago — on June 30, 2010.

Board of Education President Michael Conlin said the district hoped that a recent mediation session would bridge the differences, which revolve around salary and health care plans and contributions to premiums.

However, the agreement that the district reached with union leadership was voted down by the members. Negotiations are continuing and another session with a mediator is scheduled for mid-August.

“Ultimately, we need to come to an agreement with union leadership that the teachers will support. I think we all recognize the Taylor Law will make this difficult,” he said.

Other districts have gone several years without new contracts. Fort Edward’s last teacher deal expired in 2013, according to the SeeThroughNY website. A review of minutes available on those district’s respective websites showed no action on new agreements.

Hadley-Luzerne officials began their negotiations with teachers in the spring, according to the minutes from the April 7 Board of Education meeting.

Minerva also does not have a new agreement, although both parties have met, according to Superintendent Timothy Farrell. School officials are still trying to get approval for their budget, which was defeated twice. However, a voting machine called into question the results of the second vote and the state education commissioner granted the district’s request for a do-over.

“We’ve concentrated more of our recent efforts on budget issues, so we haven’t spent an awful lot of time at the table,” he said.

© 2014 Glens Falls Post-Star