After nine months of negotiations, Hampton teachers have a new contract.
School board members approved the four-year deal Jan. 14 -- four days after the Hampton Township Education Association ratified it.
The parties reached agreement Dec. 19.
David Gurwin, school board president, said the contract length breaks a pattern of three-year agreements. He said during the course of negotiations, a four-year contract was chosen because it gave the district more financial flexibility.
He said the district is facing financial constraints shared by all districts in the state. Act 1 imposes limitations on the amount taxes can be raised in any year without a voter referendum.
"This simply constricts our options," he said.
Teachers worked without a contract while talks continued in separate rooms through a third party and face-to-face, although Mr. Gurwin said the latter meetings were a rarity. The final negotiation session was handled by a mediator.
"Both [face-to-face and mediator-facilitated meetings] have their place. I know it was important to HTEA that we always had a board member present. That's how we wanted to handle things," Mr. Gurwin said. "We thought it was important to participate. It showed them that we really cared."
Chuck Ceccarelli, who has taught chemistry in the high school for 14 years, took over as union president when Jane Taylor, an elementary schoolteacher, stepped down for personal reasons last summer.
Mr. Ceccarelli agreed having a new contract is quite a relief but acknowledged the nine months of negotiations weren't always easy.
"It's always a difficult process," he said. "It's the nature of the beast."
He also pointed out that teachers took the current political and economic situation into consideration when negotiating.
"It put a lot of strain on everyone across the board," Mr. Ceccarelli said. "But we had to be realistic and aware of the larger scenario."
The contract, which is retroactive to the start of the 2012-2013 school year, freezes teacher salaries for 2013-2014. Overall, teacher wages will increase an average 3 percent with those at the top of the scale receiving average increases of less than 1 percent.
The teachers also will contribute more toward their health-care premiums and there will be changes in health coverage.
There is an early retirement incentive for members who have worked at least 17 years. They have until May 1 to decide on accepting the incentive.
Retirements must become effective by June 30.
The district will contribute $10,000 each year for four years to members' 403(b) accounts -- the government equivalent of a 401(k).
The average salary at Hampton, based on 208 full-time teachers, is $72,987, according to the district.
Rita Michel, freelance writer: email@example.com.