The two-year contract approved Monday night between the Mars Area school board and its teachers reflects the fiscal reality facing Pennsylvania schools.
"This contract is based on mutual compromise, is fiscally sustainable and provides much-needed budget stability in an uncertain funding environment," said board President J. Dayle Ferguson.
Board members approved the contract by a 7-0 vote. Teachers voted earlier in the day. The former agreement had expired June 30.
"The teachers ratified the contract even though it places their average career salary below the average of all Butler County schools," said Mark Lewandowski, a member of the negotiating team for the Mars Area Education Association.
Salaries will increase by 3 percent this year, and by 4.4 percent in 2013-14. Teachers took a pay freeze in 2011-12. When you take that into account, the average raise is 2.71 percent over three years, said district solicitor Tom King.
The average teachers' salary is $54,500 and will increase to $59,174 by the end of the contract. The maximum teachers' salary is currently $72,712 and will rise to $78,188 by 2014.
"The most experienced teachers are guaranteed a minimum increase of $1,000 per year at the top of the schedule," he said.
Teachers also will contribute toward health insurance premiums in the second year of the contract, saving the district $81,000 a year. Deductibles will rise to $600 for an individual and $1,200 for a family, up from $250 for an individual or $500 for a family. That will save the district $347,000 a year, Mr. King said.
Mr. King and Mr. Lewandowski both noted that the new deductibles are the highest among Butler County schools.
But resident Frank Moore said the deductibles were still too low, adding that he and his wife have an $1,800 deductible under Medicare.
"I don't care about the schools. I care about the retirees," he said.
The contract also reduces the amount of time the district pays the health insurance premiums for those opting for early retirement from nine years to eight years, saving the district $14,000 per retiree per year.
Also, the early retirement benefits will be eliminated in 2014, which will save $20,000 per retiree, and the health insurance buyout for married employees was eliminated, saving the district $35,000 a year.
Life insurance for teachers was increased from $30,000 to $50,000, the first time that benefit has been increased since 1989. That will have a negligible effect on the budget, Mr. King said.
Teachers holding supplemental contracts -- coaches and club sponsors -- will see a 3 percent increase. The athletic director's position was removed from the bargaining unit.
The contract also calls for a Joint Committee on Professional Attire that will adopt a dress code for the professional staff by June 30. The task force will have equal numbers of teachers and administrators, Mr. King said.
Mr. King said the agreement was reached in only two meetings after board members joined the bargaining. Superintendent William Pettigrew and business Manager Jill Swaney handled the negotiations until then.
"A lot of hard work had already been accomplished before we got there," he said.
The new contract will expire June 30, 2014.
"The association hopes to maintain the congeniality demonstrated over the last few weeks with the district as it prepares to negotiate a new contract in just over a year," Mr. Lewandowski said.
The district is still negotiating with the union representing the support staff. Board members are considering outsourcing those positions to save money.
"It is our hope the district will use this monumental gesture of cohesion tonight with us to settle their contract with our wonderful support staff of secretaries, paraprofessionals and custodians," Mr. Lewandowski said. "We implore you to do the right thing -- give them a fair contract to live on."
The next negotiating session with the support staff union will be Nov. 15.
Sandy Trozzo, freelance: firstname.lastname@example.org.