By Jordan Cohen
A two-year contract approved this week by the Niles teachers union and the board of education will require teachers to pay more for their health care.
That includes teachers hired before October 2008 whose entire health care coverage had been paid for by taxpayers.
School Superintendent Mark Robinson said he believes the agreement, worked out after more than a year of negotiations, should eliminate the district’s projected $289,000 deficit for the next school year.
“We are trusting that this will bring us to zero balance,” Robinson said.
Niles has been under state fiscal watch since 2003.
The superintendent said all teachers will pay either $100 per month for family coverage or $50 per month for single coverage. The amount is nearly double the premiums the teachers hired after the 2008 cutoff had been paying. In addition, the new contract establishes deductibles—the first time the teachers have had to pay them—of $250 for single-plan holders and $500 for family coverage. Co-pays will also increase.
Robinson said that under the previous contract, the district paid $3.4 million for health care, but those costs have been cut significantly.
“I think the teachers really stepped up to the plate, and I believe everyone is happy with this,” Robinson said.
The union’s 180 teachers will get no increase in base pay for the duration of the contract, which went into effect Wednesday and expires at the end of 2013. However, Robinson said there will still be a “step increase” averaging 6 percent for teachers with 14 years or less experience and a 3 percent increase the following year. Robinson said those teachers not eligible for that increase will receive a “one-time stipend based on medical coverage” amounting to $500 for those with family coverage and $250 for those with the single plan.
The starting base salary for Niles teachers remains at $28,443 with a maximum base of $59,161 for those with 27 years of experience. Salaries increase based on length of service and advanced degrees.
“We’ve been saying we’re willing to make sacrifices and do what’s best for both sides,” said Chad Ries, a Niles teacher and union spokesman. “It’s a good indication that we really care about what we’re doing here and that we need to do things that are good for all concerned.”
Non-teaching employees, who last November agreed to a new contract with slightly higher health care contributions, will benefit from the teacher contract.
“They had agreed to [pay] 10 percent of the cost of the health plan and would have had to pay slightly above $100 a month, but they will pay the same as the teachers,” Robinson said. The board agreed to include that provision when the contract was accepted.
The teachers’ agreement follows a round of layoffs in which 15 teaching and 19 nonteaching positions were eliminated. Without the layoffs, the district would have faced at a deficit of $1.7 million.
“This gives us some breathing room, and now it’s time to reach out to the community and share that we’re working together,” Robinson said. “We no longer have this negative backdrop.”