Teacher pay not growing, but insurance increases being picked up

Teachers in Huntington County won't be getting raises this school year, but they also won't have to pay more for their health insurance premiums, which have gone up.

The Huntington County Community School Corporation's Board of Trustees approved a new teachers' contract during a special meeting on Monday, March 2. The Huntington Classroom Teachers' Association had ratified the proposed contract on Thursday, Feb. 26.

Teachers had been working under the terms of the previous contract, which expired in August, 2008.

Under the new two-year agreement, teachers' salaries will not increase during the 2008-09 school year, but teachers will get raises during the 2009-10 school year, HCCSC Superintendent Tracey Shafer explained after recommending to the board that the contract be approved.

"Along with updated language, contract provisions include a zero percent increase on the salary schedule for 2008-2009 and a base raise of 1.5 percent for the next school year - 2009-2010 - with options for a slight increase if increases in costs for health insurance are held in check," Shafer said.

While the majority of the school corporation's trustees supported the contract - Board President Kevin Patrick, Vice President Rick Brubaker and members Troy Smart, Tom King and Jennifer Goff voted in favor of the measure - two board members voted against approving the agreement. Board Secretary Rex Baxter and board member Scott Hoffman shared their concerns about non-union teacher representatives and the school corporation's insurance trust fund.

"Having read this three times, I don't find in here anywhere that the teachers who are not members of the bargaining unit are allowed to serve on any committees," Baxter noted. "I made it pretty apparent at the very first meeting we had that this was one of the things that was really important to me. Somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of our teachers have absolutely no say in what goes on in our schools. That's wrong - that's definitely wrong."

Baxter also pointed out his concerns with the school corporation's insurance trust fund.

"If we sign this, we're obligated for a year to continue as the way it is," Baxter said. "I look at this the same way as I look at the money that the federal government gave the credit unions and the banks. They turned this money over to these people to be used as they see fit, and that's what we're doing here."

Baxter went on to point out that he feels oversight of the insurance trust fund should not rest solely on people who have a vested interest in it.

"There's nobody on this committee who doesn't benefit from it," he said. "There should be at least two board members on this committee and, if it could be, I think the whole board should be involved. We're talking millions of dollars. We're obligated to the taxpayers to watch out for their money. When you just give somebody a check and have no transparency whatsoever about what's done with it, you're doing a disservice to the taxpayers of this county and I think that's wrong."

Based on those observations, Baxter felt obligated to vote against the contract.

"I think this whole contract ought to be voted down until these two things are changed," he said.

Hoffman said he also feels the board should have representation on special committees making decisions on items such as the corporation's insurance trust fund.

"I'm with Rex on the committees," Hoffman said. "Having only union members on a committee, we are doing away with some of our best teachers. I know it's a state law that they have that right to do that, but at this local we could have maybe had some agreement with them to get non-union members on the committee."

Hoffman also has concerns regarding the insurance trust fund.

"Everybody here knows my feelings on the insurance trust," he said. "I don't think anybody here would start a company up and have their employees be in charge of the benefits and then come to the boss and say ‘this is what we need, write the check out.'"

Hoffman also mentioned the fact that although the teachers will not be getting salary increases this year, they are being compensated in another way.

"The teachers aren't going with just a zero percent pay raise this year," he said. "The insurance premiums did increase substantially, and that would have come up to a 3 percent pay raise."

Hoffman also wanted to let the corporation's classified employees know they have not been forgotten.

"I want to just mention them tonight so they know we're still thinking of them and we have some work to do on our classified workers' pay," he said.

Patrick said he felt that overall, negotiations on the new contract went well.

"I'd like to thank this board because I believe that at some point or another everybody here has had an opportunity to sit in on the process," he noted. "It shows your dedication."

Patrick also thanked the administration and Classroom Teachers Association for working together during the process.

"We got a lot of issues put on the table in part of the interest-space bargaining, whereby both sides were able to discuss both sides of the issue. Not one time did I feel like anybody stormed out of the room or was upset with the process. That's a testimony both to the administration but also to the association."

Mark Kiefer, elementary school president for the Classroom Teachers Association, said he and others involved in the bargaining process are also happy with the results.

"It's a relief to have it done," Kiefer said. "The interest-space bargaining process went well, really well. It was not contentious at all. We make decisions together. It takes a little longer with this style of process, but overall it worked well. I hope this process continues."

Shafer agreed.

"I appreciate the professionalism and the openness of ideas that have been shared through the interest-space bargaining process on the part of the teachers, on the part of our administrative bargaining team, and on the part of the board," he said.