ELYSBURG — The days of Southern Columbia’s quiet negotiations between the school board and teachers are over.
Board Vice President Charlie Porter read a four-page negotiation report during Tuesday’s public meeting, revealing private proposals in an effort to provide residents with information before they vote on a tax increase referendum in the May primary election.
The move has shocked union representatives.
“We believed we had productive and professional negotiation sessions. To learn they disclosed private information publicly is disappointing,” said Mark McDade, a Pennsylvania State Education Association representative from the northeast regional office in Wilkes-Barre.
The district’s 105 teachers have been working under a three-year contract that expired June 30.
“Clearly, the school board is more interested in playing politics by pandering to the public rather than bargaining in good faith with the teachers,” union President Christopher Gengler said.
As a result, a meeting among teachers Thursday night was expected to include topics of grievances, picketing, working to rule and a strike, McDade said.
Gengler said the board is shifting blame off themselves to teachers.
“The school board’s fiscal negligence and austerity policies have led us to this point,” Gengler said.
Approving the tax increase referendum will “partly undo the damage done over the last decade,” he said.
“Voters should take note. This referendum is only the beginning of their opportunity to voice their discontent with the downward trend in educational funding,” Gengler said.
Salaries and health and pension costs are at the heart of the district’s projected $650,000 deficit in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to the negotiation report.
The district’s March 20 proposal included no increases in salary in 2013-14, a 1.3 percent increase contingent upon health care changes in 2014-15 and a 1.4 percent increase contingent upon health care changes in 2015-16.
After a health care presentation, the district made a one-time offer at that negotiation session, contingent upon acceptance of the health care coverage. It included no increase in salary in 2013-14, a 1.75 percent increase in 2014-15 and a 2 percent increase for 2015-16.
The union then presented a counterproposal that included a six-month pay freeze with a 2.75 percent salary increase plus a 1.36 percent step increase in 2013-14, a 2.75 percent increase plus a step increase of 1.7 percent in 2014-15, a 2.5 percent increase with a step increase of 1.85 percent in 2015-16 and a 2.25 percent increase with a step increase of 1.11 percent in 2016-17.
The average teacher salary is $55,632. Under the district’s proposal, the raise in year two of the contract would be $723.21, and the raise in year three would be $788.97.
Most teachers pay 24 percent of their premium costs and no deductible, but those costs will increase by 15 percent next school year.
In the district’s proposal, the board wanted the teachers to switch to a Highmark plan with a deductible of $2,000 for a single plan and $4,000 for a family plan. In conjunction, the district would fund a $1,000 single-$2,000 family Health Savings Account for each employee.
An employee subscribing for single coverage pays $1,311 and will pay $1,520 next year and $1,976 in 2015-16. Under the district’s proposal, that employee would have yearly premium contributions of $1,245 next year and $1,556 in the following years.
An employee enrolled in family coverage pays $3,591 this year, $4,130 next year and $5,369 for 2015-16. Under the district’s proposal, the employee would pay $3,384 in 2014-15 and then $4,339 in the following years.
The union has rejected any change to the health care insurance plan during the negotiation cycle, the report said.
This year, the district’s pension payments are expected to be $1.6 million, and next year, they are expected to top $2 million, according to the report.
The district’s proposal also includes changes to the school year, work day and personal and sick days
The next negotiating session between the union and the school board is Tuesday night. The district’s negotiating team consists of directors Porter, Mike Yeager and John Yocum.
A PDF of the district’s four-page report on contract proposals can be found at www.dailyitem.com.