News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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August 26, 2013

School Board to consider budget, union agreement

Salaries, health benefits, retirement adjustments up for consideration

TERRE HAUTE — At a meeting tonight, the Vigo County School Board will be asked to approve a new, one-year collective bargaining agreement with the Vigo County Teachers Association.

It also will conduct a hearing on the proposed 2014 budget. The hearing begins at 6 p.m. in the administration building, 686 Wabash Ave. The regular meeting follows.

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.

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.

Mark Lee, VCTA president, said recently that 98 percent of VCSC teachers evaluated this past year will fall into the upper two categories.

Other aspects of the proposed contract:

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 in 2011, 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.

Teachers ratified the contract Aug. 16.

At that time, Lee told teachers about what he called 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 at that time.

The legislative changes will especially hurt newer teachers’ ability to improve their salaries, he said in an interview. Changes under the 2011 law “are taking us back 40 years.”

The school district and VCTA have worked collaboratively to place into the administrative guidelines the language that had to be removed from the contract, Lee has 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.”

The proposed financial package for the one-year contract will be close to $2 million, he told teachers. “It is a very fair settlement in very difficult times where the state legislature has crippled public education,” he said in an Aug. 16 interview.

It’s estimated the district will receive only about $99,000 in new state funding for 2013-14, he 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.

During the hearing, the public will be able to comment on the proposed 2014 budget, which has been advertised at $148.8 million.

The budget consists of the general fund (funded by the state, not local property taxes), $108.7 million; debt service, $8.5 million; capital projects, $22.7 million; transportation, $6.8 million; and bus replacement, $2.1 million.

The $148.8 million is 5 percent higher than the 2013 approved budget of $141.7 million, but officials expect that overall figure to come down several million dollars by the time the budget is finalized by the state’s Department of Local Government Finance.

The state will refigure all tax rates based on actual assessed value when those are available “and will limit the levy growth and approved rates to those allowed by statute,” Donna Wilson, chief financial officer, has stated. The state agency “strictly enforces statutes that limit levy growth or rate growth.”

She anticipates a tax rate consistent with those of recent years.

The board is expected to adopt the budget on Sept. 9.

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

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