Last updated: February 20. 2013 2:28AM - 472 Views

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UNION TWP. – It took two years, but Northwest Area School Board and the teacher's union reached a tentative contract agreement Wednesday that freezes wages retroactively for the past two years, makes no across-the-board wage increases through the remainder of the contract, gradually increases teacher payments to health insurance premiums and eliminates an early-retirement incentive program when the contract expires in 2016.

The union met to vote on the deal Tuesday afternoon, and the board voted 8-0 to confirm the pact at its monthly meeting Wednesday evening. The union has been working under the terms of the prior contract since it expired in 2011.

We all welcome this agreement. ... It's a work in a positive direction for this district, Superintendent Ron Grevera said.

Director Albert Gordon, who chaired the negotiating committee, said, Negotiations at times were tough, but now, over the next few years, we have financial stability.

In December, Gordon announced that talks had reached an impasse and his committee agreed to have a state mediator, Jack Yanchulis, participate in talks. Yanchulis made some compromise proposals that helped to resolve lingering issues.

Board President Randy Tomasacci and Grevera said key terms of the new contract include:

• A complete wage freeze for 2011-12 and 2012-13. This includes step and column increases. Teacher contracts offer raises annually for a set number of years, known as steps, and for increases in education level, known as column increases. Beginning in 2013-14, step and column raises will resume, but the amounts are the same as in the expired contract. Teachers at the top of the step/column matrix get a $500 annual increase after 2012-13.

• The current health insurance premium share paid by teachers is the lesser of 3 percent of premium or 1 percent of pay. In 2013-14, it rises to the lesser of 4 percent of premium or 1.75 percent of pay, and in following year it climbs to 5.4 percent of premium or 2.5 percent wages, then 5.35 percent premium or 2.6 percent of wages.

• The district has been paying a 50 percent premium waiver – 50 percent of what the premium is worth – to teachers who forego district health insurance coverage in favor of coverage from a spouse's employer (if the spouse does not work in the district). That waiver drops to 25 percent.

• Teachers have had the choice of traditional insurance or coverage through a preferred provider organization, or PPO. All must move to a PPO by 2014-15. Traditional plans allow the insured to choose their doctors and other health providers. PPOs set up a network of doctors and providers, and while patients can still go out of network, PPO plans typically include incentives to use the network.

• An early retirement incentive program remains intact for the duration of the contract, but when the contract expires in August 2016, the incentive program goes with it.

Correspondent Tom Huntington contributed to this report.

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