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After a 13-month period in which the teachers have been working without a contract, the Port Washington School Board and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoff Gordon announced at the BOE meeting on Sept. 6 that they have entered into a four-year contract with the Port Washington Teachers Association.

Board President Rob Seiden commented, "The school board and administration are very proud that our school district and the teachers association have entered into an agreement that is fair to our teachers and our community. I salute the teachers union negotiators for their sense of fairness and we respect their passion and commitment to our students and their union membership. We are glad we were able to build bridges and achieve a fair and equitable contract. This allows the district to start the school year without the distraction of ongoing negotiations but addresses the concerns of Port residents and business owners."

Mr. Seiden thanked Dr. Gordon, who, he noted, came back early from his summer vacation and worked up to 18 hours at a clip to resolve the impasses on the contract. He also thanked Christine Vasilov, a Manorhaven ESL teacher and president of the teachers union since the spring, whom he said "fought like a firebrand but had a fresh perspective and open mind and saw the district's position in these economic times."

The wages portion of the agreement in terms of salary increase is as follows:

2005-2006 (retroactive) the increase is 2 percent (1 percent is deferred to September 2007 and 1 percent is deferred to September 2008). The deferred payments will include a supplementary payment of 5 percent of the 1 percent (the deferred amount).

2006-2007- 1.625 percent (July); 1.625 percent (February)

2007-2008- 1.625 percent (July); 1.625 percent (February)

2008-2009- 1.625 percent (July); 1.625 percent (February)

The board and Dr. Gordon point out that these percentage increases averaged over the four-year contract amount to less than 3 percent, which is less than the rate of inflation as reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for New York and Long Island for both 2005 and the first half of 2006.

It should be noted that these raises are in addition to the increases some of the teachers receive as part of the step salary mandate, which is determined by their number of years in teaching and post-graduate education. Furthermore, while each district works out its own formula for the specifics of the step program, it should also be noted that it is a universal practice in New York state.

As a point of information, the district has roughly 450 teachers.

The contract also provides for significant increased sharing of health care costs which have become a concern of school districts, governments, employers and taxpayers around the nation. The agreement provides that the share of health care cost borne by the teaching staff will increase over the term of the contract to a 20 percent share from the present 5 percent individual teacher contribution. As a point of reference, the current cost to the district for an individual plan is approximately $8,000 and a family is about $13,000. The schedule for these increases is as follows:

Effective Sept. 1, 2006 - will increase the individual payments from 5 percent to 10 percent.

Effective July 1, 2007 - will increase the individual plan payments to 15 percent.

Effective July 1. 2008 - will increase the individual plan payments to 20 percent.

The family plan remains at 20 percent of the difference between the individual and family plan.

Also in terms of health care, Board President Rob Seiden is touting the fact that no dual coverage for unit members hired after August 8, 2006 will be given if the new hire has substantially equivalent coverage with a plan from their spouses. Along with this, a committee consisting of 12 representatives from the district and union and a non-district employee benefits person will be created to determine whether a plan is "substantially equivalent."

Another cost savings to the district in regard to health care is in the "rebate" area. This former provision of the teachers contract gave teachers who opted out of the district's health care plan 50 percent of the savings that the district got from not having to pay their premium.

Under the new contract, that amount for those currently active members will be reduced to 37.5 percent, and rebates for new hires after August 8, 2006 will be eliminated.

Mr. Seiden also points to a change in the recruitment of new teachers as a major source of savings for the district. Under previous contracts, the district was mandated to credit up to three years for previous work experience in private or public schools, meaning that they had to start at the higher salary scale of step four. With the new contract, that has been eliminated. Mr. Seiden noted that this will reduce staffing costs for years to come.

Something in the new contract that Mr. Seiden calls "groundbreaking" is the creation of a Merit Pay Task Force. The district will create a committee of four representatives from the district and the union to study merit pay and make a report, findings and a recommendation by January 15, 2009.

More teacher time in the schools is also included in the new contract. At the elementary schools effective Sept.1 the workday will be increased by 15 minutes, one day per week. At the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year, the teach day will be increased by 15 minutes on an additional day per week.

This will especially benefit single and working families as it will allow for early morning teacher/parent meetings.

At the middle school and high school the workday will be increased five minutes.

It should be noted that the district currently has one of the longest workdays in Nassau.

The contractual gains by the union include some of the following:

1- Salary levels are still competitive in the marketplace.

2- Online courses will be permitted, but subject to approval.

3- Graduate courses through NYSUT permitted, but subject to approval.

4- Benefit trust increases - $50 in years two and three and by $75 in year four. (The benefit trust includes other insurances (i.e. dental, vision, prescriptions, disability insurance, etc.).

5- The number of tax shelters available to the teachers will be increased providing they meet with the administration's capabilities to monitor them.

Commenting on the contract, Dr. Gordon said, "This contract is educationally sound and responsive to the concerns of Port taxpayers and the fine teachers whom we are so fortunate to have in Port. I am pleased that we are beginning the school year with a contract in place and mutual agreement that will allow the district's students to continue the steady academic progress and soaring achievement that we have worked so hard to attain over the last several years. Both the teachers and the board of education are to be commended for working so long and hard to develop the mutual trust required in difficult economic times. The resulting negotiated agreement is fair to both teachers and taxpayers."

Board member Jean Marie Posner commented at the Sept. 6 BOE that "on balance, neither side got everything they wanted. Both sides compromised a little to reach a reasonable settlement for the good of the students."


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