News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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August 17, 2013

VCTA, Vigo School Corp. reach new contract agreement

TERRE HAUTE — For the 16th year in a row, the Vigo County School Corp. and Vigo County Teachers Association have reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement before the start of school.

But with a 2011 change in state law, collective bargaining has changed radically, and to the detriment of teachers, a union official said.

Under the tentative agreement, VCSC teachers who were rated as effective or highly effective under a new, state-required evaluation system will receive a 2.2 percent raise to their base salary for the 2013-14 school year, Mark Lee, VCTA president, explained to teachers after a back-to-school rally.

The proposed financial package for the one-year contract will be close to $2 million, he said. “It is a very fair settlement in very difficult times where the state legislature has crippled public education,” he said in an interview.

He noted that 98 percent of VCSC teachers evaluated this past year will fall into the upper two categories. A new state law prohibits a teacher ranked in the lower two categories, “ineffective” or “needs improvement,” from receiving any increase in compensation the next year.

Other aspects of the proposed contract are as follows:

n It increases the board’s annual contribution from 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent to the 401(a) qualified retirement plan.

n Effective with the Jan. 1, 2014 health insurance premium renewal, the school board will assume up to 1 percent of any premium increase.

n Because of changes in the state collective bargaining law, all prohibited subjects of bargaining were removed from the collective bargaining agreement. The majority of this removed language has been placed in VCSC administrative guidelines, which are nonbinding.

The school district and VCTA have worked collaboratively to place the language in the administrative guidelines, Lee said. “These guidelines are a positive for us, and it would be difficult to fathom how much worse things could have become without such collaboration.”

It’s estimated the district will receive only about $99,000 in new state funding for 2013-14, Lee told teachers. As a result, the district must use part of its cash balance to help pay for the raise. Funding also became available through teacher retirements, he said.

Lee asked teachers to support the proposed settlement, noting that a VCTA team “put a lot of effort into it” and worked two years to maintain much of the contract language through the administrative guidelines.

“This is the best you are going to get,” Lee said.

He asked the VCTA members in the gym to stand to indicate their approval — and most, if not all, did so. The School Board also must ratify the agreement.

Superintendent Dan Tanoos said the School Board “lead the way and wanted to provide a salary increase for our teachers this school year.”

For the past two years, teachers have received one-time stipends that did not become part of their base salary.

Because the school district has been financially responsible, it has a cash balance “that allows us to give more than we have in the past two years,” Tanoos said.

The district has a cost conservation plan, fewer employees and fewer buildings, he noted.

Lee spoke at length to teachers about the devastating impact of 2011 legislation, Senate Enrolled Act 1, which has crippled collective bargaining and ended seniority, salary steps and the protection of tenure.

These and other legislative changes “have and will negatively affect our opportunities for increasing salaries, benefits and teacher protection,” Lee stated.

He noted that the district’s Health and Wellness Center has saved employees to date $4 million in out-of-pocket medical and prescription costs, which in turn results in many fewer claims filed with Anthem. This year, employees have had no increase in health care premiums, he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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