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School district, unions agree on tentative salary raise; Proposal to go before board for OK

By Staff | Oct 15, 2008

Lee County School District officials sat down with members of the Teacher and Support Personnel Associations on Tuesday night to finalize salary negotiations that were originally stalled back in May.

Some 30 representatives formed a tentative agreement that will reach the school board on Nov. 3.

After three hours of deliberation, bargaining representatives agreed that all TALC and SPALC employees will receive a 3 percent salary increase retroactive for those hired July 1.

Overall, the district set aside $6.8 million for salaries.

But, this salary increase would not be considered a step increase. The school district uses a complex conversion chart where personnel are given salary raises based on “steps” or their experience. This step chart will have to be revised, therefore almost all of the employees in the district will be on the 2007 to 2008 step.

SPALC also asked that new hires be given experienced credit as needed.

As a result of the decision made Tuesday night, any current copies of the 2008 to 2009 step chart are void, officials explained. On the other hand, some 234 teachers who were hired this year, but are veteran teachers from another district, will be placed at the appropriate revised step.

Mark Castellano, president of TALC, said he is concerned about teachers not receiving their step raise, but later agreed to 3 percent across the board.

“We felt that if people don’t move up a step, in the long run that impacts them in their career,” said Castellano.

Dr. Gregory Adkins, representing the school district, said employees would get a raise and therefore would not lose earnings.

“You are getting a 3 percent raise. I don’t think those people are losing any earnings over their lifetime at all,” he said.

Adkins also stated that he feels a 3 percent increase would be the most equitable option for all employees.

In the beginning of negotiations, TALC asked for an additional 2 percent increase for those teachers who have reached the highest step.

Adkins stated that the proposal for an additional 2 percent “is out of my bargaining authority,” even though only 90 district employees would have received this additional increase.

“I don’t think we can jeopardize the financial stability of this district by going ahead and adding that all into the steps,” said Adkins.

The district’s contingency fund, which currently holds approximately $24 million, would be used to cover salaries.

Major concerns for the district are whether the state will ask for this money back, if enrollment numbers will decrease in October and February, or if these funds will be needed to help rebuild after a major hurricane.

According to Adkins, a worst case scenario could deplete the contingency fund of all but $3 million. Even more dire is that district officials expect the 2009 to 2010 year to be worse, and operating with an empty contingency fund could prove devastating.

The bargaining units also made a decision on changes in the district’s health benefits Tuesday.

“Utilization across the board is up and you know we are self-insured and we based our premiums on utilization,” said Susan Strong from the district’s Insurance Task Force. “We want people to have more affordable plans so they have options.”

The 927 Plan, a comprehensive health insurance plan, was phased out because of increasing premiums. Instead, the district will offer an HMO plan in its place.

The HMO plan would decrease the percentage of participating doctors from 100 to between 60 to 70 percent, explained Strong. Furthermore, benefits for mental health services will be decreased.

While the 927 Plan allowed for 45 visits to a mental health professional over a year, the HMO taps out at 20 for outpatient and 30 for inpatient.

Strong said the task force was concerned that many employees used 927 for mental health services, but a further investigation found that only three employees had exceeded 20 visits.

The district will continue offering a diverse list of benefits for its employees when many other employers do not offer any choices or alternatives. They will continue to offer the 903 Plan, 706 Plan and 118 Plan.

Also, the benefit bank will be $6,372.