WILKES-BARRE — Touting about $300,000 in savings thanks to increased insurance deductibles and more than $1.5 million saved through a partial two-year pay freeze, the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board approved a new teachers contract 8-1 at a special meeting Wednesday afternoon.
James Susek cast the lone no vote without comment. He left immediately after the meeting through the back door of the conference room where the meeting was held. Denise Thomas voted yes while participating via phone.
The teachers approved the contract May 29, hours after the board posted an outline of contract terms on the district website.
Only two audience members spoke before the vote, and one was teacher Carol Yedinak, a teacher at GAR Memorial High School who questioned the board’s decision to build a new high school that will consolidate grades 9-12 from Meyers and Coughlin.
“The harm has already been done,” she said of the exclusion of GAR from the plan. GAR students feel they are getting less than those who will be at the new school, she continued.
Sam Troy, a regular critic of the board’s fiscal decisions, said the vote on the contract should be delayed until more information is released to the public, and they have more time to review it. While saying he supports unions, collective bargaining and the right to strike, he added the lack of transparency “put the board into the realm of a cabal.” He also asked if the union had made any concessions.
District Solicitor Ray Wendolowski and Superintendent Brian Costello both pointed out the general terms of the contract have been on the website for two weeks, and the union did make concessions by increasing deductibles and taking the partial pay freeze.
The previous contract expired in September 2017. The new one runs from then through August 2022.
Costello said the deal increases the insurance deductible from $150 to $450 for individuals and from $450 to $750 for family coverage. It also increases emergency room co-payments from $35 to $150.
The pay freeze is complicated because teacher salaries rise automatically in “steps” and “columns.” Step increases are annual raises up to a certain number of years, while column increases are for obtaining a set number of college credits beyond a bachelor’s degree. Wilkes-Barre Area has 15 steps and 11 columns.
The new contract has no step increases for 2017-18 or 2018-19, but does give column raises retroactively if they were earned in those years. The contract also gives a $500 stipend to all teachers in 2018-19.
Settlement with stores
The board also approved a property tax settlement with a string of stores in Wilkes-Barre Township, from Lowe’s to Bed Bath & Beyond.
Wendolowski said the agreement will net the district about $1 million in back taxes for increased assessments and about $350,000 per year going forward.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish