Northwest Area one vote away from ‘early-bird’ teacher contract

By Mark Guydish - [email protected]

UNION TWP. — For a district that has had its share of acrimonious teacher contract talks, Northwest Area is poised to approve a new agreement one year ahead of schedule.

The school board approved a new, five-year deal and the union was expected to vote on it sometime Thursday. The current contract expires Aug. 31, 2019.

“This was an early-bird negotiation,” union lead negotiator Debbie Zabielski said Thursday. “There were minimum items on the table. Both sides felt we did a lot of good work on the current agreement.”

If it wins union approval, the new deal would run five years beginning Sept. 1, 2019. All teachers would be guaranteed a minimum salary increase of $300 per year for the length of the contract, though actual raises would vary depending on where a teacher was on the “step/column” system common to teacher contracts.

Teachers typically get a guaranteed pay increase every year, or “step” for a number of years, and get guaranteed raises for attaining a certain number of college credits beyond a bachelor’s degree, known as columns. Once a teacher reaches the top step and column, the only raises he or she gets are the ones negotiated in each contract.

The proposed contract would also increase the percentage of the health insurance premium teachers pay. Currently they pay 7 percent of the premium. That would remain the same until 2021-22, when it would rise to 8 percent. It would rise to 9 percent for the last two years of the deal.

Zabielski said she wasn’t sure what time the union vote was slated to occur, in large part because district schedules — and the availability of the high school — have been disrupted thanks to an Aug. 18 fire that damaged classrooms and caused smoke and water damage elsewhere in the middle/high school.

Huntington Valley Fire Chief William Miller said Thursday the cause of the fire is still being investigated. But he again noted it is not considered to be suspicious.

The blaze pushed back the start of the school year for secondary students.

Initially set to start Aug. 27, classes at the middle/high school will now begin Sept. 10, according to published reports.

By Mark Guydish

[email protected]

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish