South Middleton School Board members Thursday ratified a three-year contract with the teachers’ union that calls for an average annual salary increase of 2.8 percent.

The unanimous board decision came after a majority of South Middleton Education Association members approved the pact in voting that started Monday and concluded Thursday afternoon, said Mike Freese, the chairman of the union’s negotiating team and a high school social studies teacher.

“The association is pleased to come to a resolution with the school board,” he said. “I would like to thank board president Randy Varner and both negotiating teams for working tirelessly the past few weeks to help bring our two sides together.”

The contract runs from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2020. Under its terms, teachers will receive a 3 percent retroactive salary increase for the current school year.

The terms also call for a 2.8 percent salary increase for the 2018-19 year and a 2.6 percent increase for 2019-20, according to a written statement Freese issued after the board vote.

While the majority of the 155-member bargaining unit is teachers, the contract also applies to school nurses, librarians and the athletic trainer.

Benefits

As for employee benefits, all SMEA members will be moved to a Qualified High Deductible Health Plan on Feb. 1, Freese said. “Teachers will continue to pay the same amount towards premium costs as they had in the previous contract.

“We are teachers, but we are also parents, taxpayers and residents of this community,” Freese said. “We understand that strong schools make strong communities. So we are looking forward to continuing to work on building the educational success we have already achieved that makes our community such a wonderful place to live.”

SMEA members had been working without a contract since a two-year extension on the previous contract expired on June 30. Negotiations for a new pact started in January 2017.

In a show of solidarity, a standing room only crowd of mostly teachers attended the board reorganization meeting in early December. While none of them spoke during the meeting, their presence was felt as Randy Varner took over the helm of board president from Michael Berk.

In early December, Freese said the board had been busy trying to hire a new superintendent and to negotiate a five-year education contribution agreement between the school district and UPMC Pinnacle. Under the agreement, the health care system has agreed to make voluntary contributions in lieu of property tax payments on its UPMC Pinnacle Health Carlisle Regional Medical Center property in South Middleton Township.

“The reorganization of the school board in December breathed new life into the negotiating process,” Freese said Thursday in the written statement.

Negotiations

Varner also prepared written comments to mark the end of what he called “a long road of hard work by many people.” He thanked both negotiating teams.

“The contract process we work under puts school boards in a very difficult position of balancing our admiration and appreciation of our teachers versus our duty to be vigilant in protecting the financial integrity of the district,” Varner said. “I think this contract strikes the appropriate balance. Neither side is completely happy with this contract. … That usually is an indication that a pretty good result was reached.”

Varner said South Middleton, like other school districts, is facing a very difficult financial future. “Everything we do as a board is colored by that fact,” he said. “We live under that cloud.”

Even so, board members recognize the strength and backbone of the district rests with its teaching staff and not the availability of technological gizmos or newly renovated school buildings, Varner said. “Nothing that we do as a board is more important in our educational mission than making sure our students have qualified, talented and excellent teachers standing in front of them every day teaching, caring and inspiring.”

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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