Parkland teachers approved a new two-year contract Tuesday that freezes their pay for the next school year and requires them to contribute to their health care coverage the following year.
Parkland Education Association President Sandi Gackenbach said "a very sound majority" approved the contract for the 2012 to 2014 school years in votes cast throughout the school day. She did not disclose the exact vote, but said, "There were very few who did not approve, less than 50."
The association represents 626 teachers, nurses, guidance counselors and other professional staff. Not everyone had cast ballots.
Within hours of the teachers' vote, the Parkland School Board, following an executive session, also approved the contract at its meeting.
Gackenback said she was "relieved" to have the contract settled. Since September, union leadership and district administration had been in early bird negotiations, focusing on salaries and benefits. They reached a tentative agreement in January.
Gackenbach said the teachers are aware of the district's financial challenges and that they want Parkland to be able to continue to deliver quality education to its students. "This is a time to be cooperative and not adversarial," she said.
Superintendent Richard Sniscak, negotating his first teachers' contract in his new role, said he appreciated the teachers' recognition of the district's financial situation in the negotiations.
Under the contract approved Tuesday:
- Teachers and other union members will take a pay freeze in the first year of the contract, but they will receive a flat $1,250 salary increase in the second year.
- Teachers will not be able to garner pay increases for years of experience associated with the contract nor pay increases for obtaining additional college credits.
- Health insurance is frozen in the first year for those in the Preferred Provider Organization health plan, but in the second year, members must contribute $15 per bi-weekly pay for single coverage and $30 per bi-weekly pay for family coverage. Members who have Classic Blue Indemnity Plan will have benefits frozen for two years and pay up to $62 per month for single coverage or up to $224 per month for family coverage.
- Teachers who have their master's degrees will be now only be reimbursed for tuition costs beyond their master's degrees at 50 percent of the Kutztown University rate for each course. (Previously all teachers were given full reimbursement, at the Kutztown University rate, for college credits; if the credit cost was higher than the Kutztown rate, they were reimbursed 20 percent of the difference between the two rates.)
The teachers' salary freeze did not come as a surprise. Parkland's administrators had taken a pay freeze for the current school year, and union and district officials had indicated even before negotiations began that a zero-percent salary increase was possible for teachers in a new contract.
The starting salary for teachers will remain at $48,671, officials said.
The new agreement is much shorter than the current five-year contract, now in its final year. Sniscak and Gackenbach have said a shorter agreement is a responsible move, given economic uncertainties that hinder forecasting.
Parkland's financial challenges stem from lower interest earnings, reduced property assessments, lost subsidies and state funding cuts. In January, the school board approved a $138 million preliminary budget for the 2012-2013 school year that calls for a tax increase. Layoffs and cuts are also expected.