Dallas contract details suggest teachers could have done better

By Mark Guydish - [email protected]
Dallas High School. (Times Leader File Photo) -

DALLAS TWP. — Dallas School District Business Manager Grant Palfey sketched out more details of the new teacher contract approved after three years of sometimes-bitter negotiations, and comparing what teachers got to what was offered earlier could answer a question: Did either side win or lose from the long fight?

Palfey said things definitely changed over the years of negotiations, with two big decisions by the school board reshaping what the district could afford: Settling a new contract with the support staff, and agreeing to borrow money to build a new elementary school.

To get a clearer comparison of how the final deal compares to previous offers, one can look at proposals in a negotiation update the district posted online in November 2016, a bit more than a year after the last contract expired in August 2015.

In 2016, the district offer included premium sharing for insurance coverage, while the union proposal rejected any such effort. At that time, the district asked that the teachers pay 3.99 percent of premiums in 2017-18, 5 percent in 2018-19, and 6 percent in 2019-20.

The final contract approved by both sides included a 6 percent premium share for all current employees and a 10 percent premium share for all new hires.

In 2016, the district had sought to modify an early retirement incentive, or ERI, that gives a percent of pay for each year a teacher has worked in the district beyond 24 years. The percentage goes down as the years worked go up. The district offered to keep it intact through 2017-18 and then phase it out by reducing it each year before eliminating it.

The new contract keeps the ERI intact for 170 current employees, Palfey said. But it offers a one-time buyout for those with more than 35 years of experience, offering $15,000 in three annual installments. That offer expires in June 2019. The contract eliminates the ERI for new employees.

The new deal similarly keeps a promise to pay health insurance to retirees until they reach age 65, but eliminates that option for new hires.

Salary info

Measuring the impact of the contract on salaries is tricky, partly because of the complex pay matrix school districts use: Offering a pay increase every year for a limited number of years (called “steps”), and for attaining certain benchmarks in college credits beyond a bachelor’s degree (called “columns”). The Dallas contract has 16 steps and 12 columns.

The new contract runs from Sept. 1, 2015, through Aug. 31, 2023. It offers no retroactive pay for 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18. Teachers do get a healthy raise for 2018-19. Palfey said the average raise will be about 13 percent from 2014-15, or a bit more than 3 percent for each year since the contract expired

But under the 2016 proposal, some teachers would have seen even larger increases. For example, the starting salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree in 2015 was $34,501. The district proposed pushing that to $42,500 for 2016 — a 23 percent increase. On the other hand, there were no increases for the next three “columns” (teachers with bachelor degrees plus six, 12 and 18 credits) in that 2016 offer.

The new contract’s average pay increases for the next four years — 2019-20 through 2022-23 — are 3.8 percent, 5.9 percent, 3.2 percent and 2.4 percent.

The union approved the contract Sept. 20 and the school board held a special meeting Sunday to approve it. Both sides have praised the work of a mediator in ending an impasse that had led to court-mandated negotiations at one point this summer.

Both District Solicitor Vito DeLuca and union President Michael Cherinka also said they felt each side had learned from the ordeal and they hope the new contract is also the start of more amicable relationship between the board and the union.

Dallas High School. (Times Leader File Photo)
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_web1_TTL03xx18DallasHighSchool-2-4.jpgDallas High School. (Times Leader File Photo)

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