December 20, 2014

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Keystone teachers accept two-year wage freeze

LAGRANGE — Keystone Schools teachers have agreed to a two-year wage freeze and higher insurance premiums under terms of a new contract.

The wage freeze mirrors what administrators will receive as part of an agreement reached last month by the school board and 12 administrators, including Superintendent Jay Arbaugh and five building principals.

Acceptance of the concessions will reduce the district’s deficit by $370,000, and allow the millage for the operating levy being sought in November to remain at 5.95 mills, Arbaugh said.

“It has been good to work with such a professional group who understands the plight we’re in financially, and who wanted to be part of a potential solution,” Arbaugh said. “That’s why they were open to a wage freeze and major concessions in insurance including hikes in premiums.”

The contract covers the approximately 100 teachers who are members of the Keystone Local Education Association.

A statement from Jennifer Wooten, a sixth-grade math teacher at Keystone Middle School who heads the teachers union, said the group agreed to the contract concessions in light of “understanding the financial worries of our district” while considering “the value of its students and its fiscal responsibility to tax-paying citizens of the district.”

Wooten said the teachers association agreed to an additional two-year freeze — after taking one in 2012 — as well as changes to the teachers’ health care plan, even though those concessions “resulted in considerable increases in benefit costs to members.”

The statement concluded by saying “the KLEA made a conscious decision to vote in support of our kids, our community, and our future.”

Negotiations between the board and teachers had taken place since spring, Arbaugh said.

The union’s previous two-year contract — which also precluded any salary increases — expired June 30. The last pay increases the teachers received were in 2010 and 2011.

The new pact was agreed upon in August. It calls for teachers to pay a larger share of their health insurance costs by boosting premiums from 12 percent to 15 percent. The higher premium also will apply to employees taking dental and vision coverage, Arbaugh said.

The new package also removes previously imposed caps on increases in insurance costs imposed by insurers.

“If rates change and monthly premiums go from $200 to $250, there will be no cap on that increase,” Arbaugh said. “If it fluctuates, employees will have to pay it.”

So-called “spouses language” in the contract stipulates that spouses who have available medical insurance where they work cannot be covered by insurance offered through the schools. Spouses who are not working will be eligible for coverage under the health insurance offered by the schools, Arbaugh said.

“This is very similar to what’s going on in private industry,” he said.

Cuts in teachers, support staff and curriculum totaling $1 million are set to take effect in stages come January and June of next year if voters defeat the levy request in November. If approved, the levy will raise $1.4 million annually.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.