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School Committee passes new teacher contract after year of negotiations

by Alex Feit
Newton Teachers Association members and the School Committee ratified a three year contract that includes changes in Newton Public Schools employees’ health insurance policies, salary scales and other benefits Monday, according to NTA president Mike Zilles.
The two parties eventually came to a compromise on the exact terms of the contract Friday, Oct. 7 after over a year of negotiations, Zilles said.
After two general NTA meetings at this school, the Union nearly unanimously voted to approve the measure Wednesday, which was then signed by the School Committee in a special meeting Monday, he said.
“We made some sacrifices because the City was in tough circumstances due to the bad economy. On other hand, because the City gave us a fair package in terms of our salaries, it was worth it. It made us feel like we weren’t alone in our sacrifice,” Zilles said.
Jonathan Yeo, the School Committee’s chair of negotiations, said, “We used a variety of creative approaches for the contract to work in a balanced budget while still being able to be fair to current employees and to attract new ones.”
The contract implements several health care plan design changes for all members of the NTA. Deductibles for health insurance policies have been introduced for the first time, which may cost up to $250 for individuals or $500 for families. New co-pays have been added, and several preexisting co-pays will rise in cost, Zilles said.
In addition, new employees from this year on will now have to pay 25 percent towards health insurance premiums, although current employees will continue to pay 20 percent for standard premiums. Employees who continue to stay on a high-end plan offered by the City will now have to contribute 25 percent towards premiums and 30 percent towards premiums the following year if they do not switch to one of the other plans offered, according to the contract.
The cost of premiums themselves will go down up to 7 or 8 percent, but total out-of-pocket expenses will go up. These out-of-pocket expenses will be capped at $1,000 for individuals and $2,500 for families, the contract states.
Some of the revisions in the contract include changes in salary scales for certain units of the NTA, cost of living adjustments for substitute teachers and a delay in the anniversary date for step increases for most employees.
Step increases allow teachers to incrementally earn a higher base salary, and the postponement in the anniversary date will also delay the point in the year when teachers move up to the next salary step. This system has been revised to include 16.5 steps instead of the previous 13. In return, the School Committee agreed to keep adding half steps at the top of the salary scale each year, so that “salaries would grow more competitive and no longer stagnate,” Zilles said.
“Honestly, before the salary increased, Newton was getting to a place where the salaries teachers earned was no longer competitive. School systems that we would like to compare ourselves to, such as Weston or Wellesley, were paying teachers significantly more than Newton was. I think we made changes in salary so we can at least keep pace with these systems,” Zilles said.

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