Negotiations between Carbon School District and employee groups regarding wages and benefits are tentatively finished for the 2006-2007 year.
School district officials released the details of the tentative agreements on June 21 during the Carbon County Board of Education meeting.
"The negotiations went very well, "said education board member Debbie Blackburn. "We think we have a settlement that is good for everyone."
The members of the Carbon County Education Association have already started to vote on the issue. As of last Wednesday, two-thirds of the teachers who had cast votes had approved the new package.
The highlights of the negotiated items included a 4 percent salary increase along with step and lane increases.
Also, the district will maintain what it is paying for health insurance coverage.
The total package adds up to a 6 percent increase.
"Health insurance premiums are not going up as much this year as they did last, "said school district business administrator Bill Jewkes. "Last year, the increase was in the double digits. This year it is considerably lower.
The district also agreed to add 2 percent to step 28 of the salary schedule. That is the top step the district has for employees. The increase will give employees who have "topped out" a larger raise.
In addition, the issue of early retirement benefits for teachers was dealt with during the contract talks.
In the past, teachers could retire early with certain incentives after 30 years of service.
But the state has started to reign in retirements in larger school districts and will be moving to do so in the smaller public school systems like Carbon in the next couple of years, according to officials. "We would like to keep this program intact as long as possible,"said Jewkes.
The district will now adopt a policy specifying that any employee hired or rehired will not be eligible for the early retirement benefits.
Upstate districts are seeing vast numbers of teachers and employees leaving the large public school systems ranks in 2006 as the state puts pressure on to end the practice.
For instance Jordan School District, the largest in the state, saw over 200 retirements this year, with Granite School District, the second largest, seeing similar numbers next year when they face the same issue.
Incentives for early retirement often include extended health insurance for many years and often cash settlements that can range into thousands of dollars.
There were also a lot of policy issues the district and CCEA dealt with during negotiations as well.
First, based on what was settled, the district has agreed to have a representative from the CCEA sit in as an observer on all teacher interviews the district conducts. The idea is that the CCEA wants to be sure that interviews are conducted fairly and equally from situation to situation.
Some board members were concerned about this particular settlement item because they felt it would take a lot of time. However, after some discussion, the board as a whole said it felt comfortable with the idea.
Another change in the district will be that monthly paid employees will be getting checks on the 23rd day of the month instead of the last day.
"This will help to correct some of the problems we have had with sending checks out early in some months when there were holidays," stated Jewkes.
What came to mind to many people in attendance at the board of education meeting was the winter holiday break when checks are often sent out before Christmas.
In fact, participants in the negotiations said the 23rd day of the month was selected so checks would come out every year before the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays.
"And if the 23rd ends up on a weekend after school is out for the holiday, we will be issuing the checks on the last day of work," stated Jewkes.
In an different matter, the board agreed to start issuing announcements for open positions over the e-mail to make certain current employees will see the notices.
The members also agreed to make sure communications between employees and the school district are better in the next year.
Finally, the district has a number of teachers who go on special assignment each year, traveling from school to school to help with various educational goals and situations.
In the past, there has been confusion with what each of the teachers do.
The district agreed to have the specialists explain what exactly they are doing in the schools and what their assignments are.
After going over all the negotiated items, the board of education voted to accept the finished product. The motion passed by the board included extending the benefits that the CCEA negotiated to all district employees, including administrators and classified personnel.