AASD board, teachers reach pact

Differing proposals on salary had been reasons for the Altoona Area teachers’ contract impasse, but after more than six months of negotiations, the teachers’ union and school board have reached a compromise.

The board’s unanimous vote on Wednesday followed the union’s decision to accept terms of a new three-year contract recommended by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. All members were present except Dick Lockard.

With the ratification of the labor board’s report, a new contract will include raises reflecting a compromise by both sides. For the current academic year, the district will be paying 2.5 percent more in total instructional payroll than last year’s approximate $22 million. What that means for individual teachers is, on average, a 2.5 percent salary raise. But individual raises vary, depending on the number of years worked in the district.

Raises are set at 3 percent, on average, for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

A formal fact-finding hearing was held in accordance with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act on March 24.

Both parties had an opportunity to fully present their testimony, examine and cross examine witnesses and introduce oral explanations and documentary evidence in support of their perspective positions.

The board had proposed lower salary increases, 2.5 percent, for each year of the contract.

“Due to the fiscal environment, the PSERS [pension] crisis, not receiving any reimbursement for cyber education and spending almost $1 million more on special education, any increase in salary coupled with step increments would place the district in extreme financial crisis,” the report states was the board’s position.

However, the board unanimously accepted the compromise recommended by labor relations board fact-finder Michelle Miller-Kotula.

On the flip side, the union had proposed raises of more than 3 percent.

The union’s testimony reads: “The present starting salary [$39,323 with a bachelor degree] ranks fourth out of six county districts.”

The association pointed out that although it ranks first among Blair districts in career rate, it takes much longer to reach that rate than teachers in other Blair districts. It takes 27 years to reach that high salary of $71,000 to $75,000.

After the board voted, Sharon Bream was the only board member to speak to the teachers in attendance.

“I respect the job that you do,” she said. “You are important to this district.”

Altoona Area Education Association President Doug Rosenberry extended a hand to each board member.

“It’s a relief to have this process come to an end,” he said. “I’m looking forward to refocusing our efforts.”

Superintendent Thomas Otto thanked the union and board for their roles in providing an education for students.

“I’m very proud and happy about what we have achieved,” he said.

The new contract will also transition teachers’ health care coverage to a qualified high-deductible health plan with Health Savings Accounts (HSA) owned by the teachers.

Both the board and union had proposed Qualified High Deductible health care plans. Such plans help school districts save money.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.