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School Contract Gets Final Approval in Somerset Hills

Three-year agreement, retroactive to the last school year, gives teachers and other school staff raises for two years.

Two years after negotiations started, the Somerset Hills Board of Education approved a three-year pact with the education association, retroactive to last year, that gave raises of 3.25 percent for this school year and next, but nothing retroactive for the first year of the contract.

The board's vote at Wednesday's meeting was unanimous, although retiring board member Karen McMahon, who attended her final meeting, abstained.

Board member Robert Baker outlined the terms of the contract for the other school board members and said he believed that nearly all of the Somerset Hills Education Association's 200-plus members had voted to ratify the contract as well.

He said the association, including teachers, secretaries, maintenance workers, the technology department and other educational support staff, had ratified the three-year contract last week. However, he said the association had only given school officials the go-ahead on Wednesday to approve the pact and salary guide.

For the 2012-13 school year, the starting salary for a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree is $52,080, according to the guide. The highest paid teachers at the top of the guide will earn $106,837 for this year, Baker pointed out. The approved contract gave a zero raise to members of the SHEA for the 2011-12 school year.

The previous contract expired in June 2011. Contract negotiations continued through the 2011-12 school year, and a tentative settlement had been reached by the time this school year began. However, work continued on details and ratification discussions continued through this fall.

Other terms of the contract, according to information released by the board:

There was a zero percent increase for the stipends for teachers advising co-curricular activities for the first and last year of the contract, and a 1.5 percent increase for 2012-13.

Longevity increases, paid every year, increased by $250 after 20 years of employment, and $500 after 25 years of employment for staff with certificates; $356 per year after 16 years of service for secretaries; and $250 per year after 10 years of service for the technology staff.

The district will pay for up to nine college credits per year earned by staff in the new contract, a reduction from the previous 12 credits, Baker said. There now is a maximum districtwide cap set at $175,000, he said. Teachers now may take pre-approved online courses or hybrid courses, he said.

Baker said it was a giveback from teachers that the salary guide now skips the step of masters degree plus 60 credits, not awarding the next incremental raise until the staff member reaches a doctorate. He said that most staff members seeking additional education do not reach the doctorate level.

The new contract also revises the school district's health benefits packages. Under state law, teachers had to begin paying 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their health benefits last year, Baker said. The formula has been revised, and staff has been now contributing to between 8 to 9 percent of their health benefits costs this year, a percentage that will rise to up to more than 30 percent in some cases next year, he said.

The new contract offers three options; the current plan; a point of service plan that is 10 percent less costly to both the employees and to the board; and a high-deductible health plan in which the board and employee can both contribute toward a health savings account. That last option especially can save money for the employees and the school district as well, Baker said.

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