Panther Valley School District teachers will be getting modest raises and paying more for health benefits under a new four-year contract approved Thursday by the school board.
The school board, with member Koreen Nalesnik absent, voted all in favor of the contract, which is retroactive to July 1, 2011 and expires in August 2015. Negotiations began in January 2011.
Under the terms of the contract, the district's 121 teachers, who approved the contract last Tuesday, will receive raises of 2.8 percent for 2011-12; 2.8 percent in 2012-13; 2.7 percent in 2013-14; and 2.7 percent in 2014-15.
Further, in the 2013-14 school year, teachers will for the first time, pay health care deductibles $75 for a single person and $150 for two-party or family plans. Also, the contract increases prescription drug co-pays to $10 for generics, $20 for formulary, and $30 for non-formulary.
Teachers will also pay more for doctor visits, to $20 for a visit to a primary or specialist care physician, $50 for urgent care or emergency department visits.
Anyone retiring under the new contract will incur the new co-pay amounts.
"These things will make up more than $100,000 to help defer the costs of the raises," she said.
Porembo said the average Panther Valley teacher's salary is about $45,000 a year.
High school teacher and Panther Valley Education Association President Joseph Sweeney said in an email message after the meeting that educators were satisfied with the contract.
"After months of negotiations, the Panther Valley Education Association is pleased that negotiations on a new contract have been ratified by both teachers and school board," he said. "Considering the bargaining turmoil being experienced in other school districts at this time, we feel fortunate that a settlement was reached that accommodated the basic needs of the employees while staying within the financial confines of the school district.
"Much credit must be given to the fact-finder, Ralph Colfesh, Jr., who provided the framework for the settlement, (school district) attorney Ellis Katz, Superintendent Rosemary Porembo, and business manager Ken Marx, for their accuracy, flexibility, and desire to reach an agreement, and to the creativity and fact-based decision making of the PVEA bargaining teams headed by (Sweeney) and most recently, Terry Bonner Jr., who professionally represented the membership's interests. The PVEA is confident that the positive labor/management relationship that has developed through this round of negotiations will benefit the district through collaborative efforts at improved quality of instruction, fiscal responsibility, and community service."
Board members William Hunsicker and Anthony DeMarco thanked the negotiating committee and teachers for working to settle the new pact.
"We'll see you in two-and-a-half years, hopefully," Hunsicker said.
Board member and negotiating committee member David Hiles had issues with making the new pact retroactive.
"When we started negotiating, two ground rules that were set that were agreed upon were that we couldn't guarantee confidentiality because of Mr. Angst, and that any agreement was not going to be retroactive, because of our financial situation. There's no way for us to know what's coming down the road moneywise, from the state ... it's just an unknown for us," he said.
Board member Roy Angst is waiting a Carbon County court ruling that will determine whether he will be once again allowed to attend school board executive sessions. School officials took the matter to court after Angst, they contend, revealed confidential information in his online blog.
Board President Jeff Markovich, who was also on the negotiating committee, voted in favor of settling the contract, but said it may have turned out differently had the school board known Panther Valley was again on the state Department of Education's list of low-achieving schools.
"I feel we didn't have all the information, looking back today. We didn't have the document from the state, saying that we have two failing schools," he said. "I wonder if the outcome of this contract would be different if we had had that. I hope future boards may use this contract as a line in the sand, saying 'That's it. The test scores come up, the kids deserve better, the taxpayers deserve better, and I, as a parent, deserve better."
Porembo said after the meeting that the contract was retroactive in order to save money on pension costs.
"When we have to pay (teachers') pension fund, it worked out much better for the taxpayers and the district because it's at an 8.65 percent rate. To pay a raise on top of over 16.35 percent (the rates projected cost increase. It is expected to then rise even higher, to 21.8 percent), there would be more cost incurred by the district and the taxpayers," she said. "So, we said, we'll give you retroactivity, it will be cheaper. Just in that one year, 2011-12, in pension costs for the district, we saved over $20,000."
"I thought it was good contract," Porembo said after the meeting. "I believe it is fair to the taxpayer, and I believe it was fair to our teachers. I believe that at this time, when we are looking at cutting costs, and seeing that there is less funding coming from federal and state revenues and it's very hard to increase local revenues I believe it's time we have to start asking our professionals to start paying for their health care costs. I think that's a big benefit to the district. I'm glad the teachers also saw that, and were able to come across and vote this contract in, because we have to start sharing more of those costs."