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CENTER TOWNSHIP — The Homer-Center School District and its teachers’ union have approved a new labor agreement that continues to provide formula-based pay raises and restores an early-retirement incentive offer for teachers.

The Homer-Center Education Association ratified the agreement Monday and the district school board approved it Thursday on a 5-2 vote. Board members Vicki Smith and Robert Valyo said they opposed the contract because of the retirement provision.

It’s a late agreement. The sides negotiated 14 months beginning in January 2017 and came to terms seven months after the last contract expired in August.

The three-year deal will expire Aug. 14, 2020. It covers 65 members of the HCEA.

Teacher salaries this year range from $54,355 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree to $77,979 for teachers with 11 or more years of service and a master’s degree plus 30 credits.

Pay raises in the second and third years will run between 2.25 percent and 4 percent. The exact figures will be the average of the economic index set for the district by Pennsylvania Department of Education and the percentage increase in basic education funding awarded in the state budget each year.

The contract provides retirement incentives for HCEA members with at least 25 years of teaching experience, including 15 years in the district.

Those who retire in their first year of eligibility would be paid $17,500; those who wait until the second year would receive $16,000 and those accepting the incentive in the third year would get $14,000. The incentives would be paid in four equal annual installments.

Smith said the retirement incentive clause could be costly for the district for many years.

“The teachers already have a good pension plan,” said Smith, who was away from the district and participated in the meeting by speakerphone. “This is not an anti-teacher sentiment. But the incentive language is very hard to remove from a contract once it has been included.”

“I’m not big on incentives to retire early,” Valyo said. “Financially, it’s no good for the district.”

Board president Michael Bertig and directors Gerald Bertig, Fred Hayes, Logan Dellafiora and Justin Smyers approved the contract. Daniel Fabin and James McLoughlin were absent.

District superintendent Charles Koren, Michael Bertig and teachers’ union president Lisa Adams hailed the agreement in a joint news release issued by the western regional office of Pennsylvania State Education Association.

“We appreciate the contributions of our highly educated teachers, including the work that they do both inside and outside the classroom,” Bertig said in the PSEA statement. “Therefore, we are pleased to have a contract that is fair to our teachers and also is fiscally responsible to the members of our school community.”

“We are proud to reach an agreement that we truly feel will benefit our teachers and our students,” Adams said. “In true bargaining fashion, both sides made compromises along the way, but we’re thankful that we reached an agreement that addresses many key issues we’ve been working hard to improve.”

“We are fortunate to work with so many highly qualified and caring teachers who are represented by HCEA and their capable leaders,” Koren said. “The process brought about a mutual agreement that our school community can be pleased with.”

Staff writer/Web Editor, The Indiana (Pa.) Gazette

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school boards and White Township, Center Township, Homer City and Burrell Township, and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.