CENTER TOWNSHIP — Seven months before their deadline, the Homer-Center School District and teachers’ union have ratified a new labor contract.
The three-year deal takes effect Aug. 31 and awards pay raises based on figures not yet established.
Negotiations began in August, led to a ratification vote of Homer-Center Education Association members last month, and to an 8-0 vote of the school board on Thursday.
Leaders of the board and union said the talks were starkly different from past negotiations.
“Early-bird negotiations went very well,” board President Vicki Smith said. “Everybody gave a little and everyone got a little. It went extremely well and we’re very pleased to have the continuity and civility going into the next three years.
“Having been through some negotiations that were pure torture, and lasted many more months than necessary, it certainly was a joy to have everything taken care of by the administrators and our team,” Smith said. “It’s an outcome we can all work with.”
“It was about adult conversation and it was very, very productive,” said teacher Lisa Adams, the president of HCEA.
Adams praised the work of district Superintendent Charles Koren and Business Manager Greg Cessna in the negotiations.
“Nobody was totally happy … but the teachers are very happy and approved it in December — it was a landslide victory, so I believe they are pleased with the agreement as well,” Adams said.
She said the contract was approved by a vote of 50-6 of the 67-member organization.
“The possibility of the success of the early contract talks is a reflection of the cooperation and understanding of the leadership and members of HCEA as well as the commitment of the (school board) to remain aware of the expectation of continued improvement and focus upon student learning and achievement,” according to a news release distributed by administrators. “Fiscal awareness and community understanding remains a component of the foundation of understanding for all parties involved.”
Following a formula established in 2011 for the current HCEA contract, teacher pay raises will be set at the average of the economic index set by the state education department for budget calculation, and the increase in basic education subsidy set by the legislature in the state budget.
The contract creates a new step on the salary scale for temporary professional employees with a Level 1 Certificate, who would be paid at a rate lower than teachers with a bachelor’s degree in their first year of service — the traditional first step on the scale.
Smith and board members Gerald Bertig, Michael Bertig, Fred Hayes, James McLoughlin, Julie Rado, Joy Sasala and Sherry Williams approved the contract. Board member Daniel Fabin was absent.
The contract also increases the teachers’ year from 184 work days to 185.
It also calls for offering a Qualified High Deductible Health Care Plan with $1,500 and $2,500 deductibles to teachers in January 2015, and sets the district contribution at 72 percent, which would save the district $60,000.
Time off would be set at three personal days and 10 sick days a year, and the contract would eliminate retirement incentives.
Also in district economic issues, the board took the first steps in setting the 2014-15 budget by declaring its option to possibly increase the real estate tax at a rate greater than the local economic index of 3 percent. The administration will ask for state Department of Education approval to recover excess costs of pension contributions and special education without a voter referendum, under exceptions allowed under Act 1.
A property tax increase at the index would raise the rate from 125.6 to about 129.8 mills
Cessna said Homer-Center could be eligible to raise the tax 7 mills more, under the exceptions, but that the district is unlikely to need that amount to balance the budget.
The district’s proposed preliminary budget will be advertised beginning today for 20 days of public review and comment, before the board votes on it Feb. 13. The budget would be subject to adjustment and final adoption by June 30.
In other business, the board:
• Approved holding classes on March 17 to make up for the day school was canceled due to extreme cold on Jan. 7.
• Approved a grant award of $6,800 from the Highmark Foundation for the “Save Your Brain: Indiana County Concussion Awareness Initiative” project.
The application was submitted by teachers Bob Piccirillo and Matt Rodkey.
“During the second semester, Homer-Center students at Indiana County Technology Center will produce three grade-appropriate videos to assist students to understand concussions and the transition back into school,” and the project also will include a concussion management team training component, Koren said.
• Learned that the district is among several ICTC member districts that are jointly applying for a grant of $3.1 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to fund STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) literacy and expertise programs for the region.
• Hired Danielle Geisel and Heather Klingensmith as instructional aides effective Jan. 2 at $8 an hour.
• Approved Robert Stossel and Aaron Stultz as volunteer coaches for the boys’ basketball team for the current school year, and approved Bethany Cheek and Steven Hensley as band volunteers.
• Approved teachers’ requests for travel to three conferences and 15 student field trip requests, including seven by the indoor percussion ensemble. The band will travel for six performances in Pennsylvania at a cost to the district of $3,750, and visit Wildwood, N.J., from April 30 to May 4 at the expense of the band parents’ organization.
• Granted permission to Kayla Fuller and the Evergreen Boys’ and Girls’ Club for use of the elementary school cafetorium for a family night event on Feb. 19 without a fee.
The board also was introduced to James Wagner, the recently hired executive director of the Armstrong-Indiana Intermediate Unit, who said he plans to visit school boards in all 11 participating school districts at least once a year.
Wagner invited board members and administrators to contact his office for information on any of 52 school and community programs offered by ARIN and supported in part by the district’s contribution of $31,000 to the unit’s general budget.