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Teachers make concessions on healthcare; contract 'fair to everyone'

Cary Ashby • Updated Dec 2, 2015 at 10:13 PM

“I think they’ll sleep better.”

That’s was what Rod Thimke, president of the Norwalk Teachers Association, said Wednesday night about how the teachers should respond after Norwalk City Schools ratified their three-year contract.

Retroactive from July 1, the contract provides for base salary increases each year respectively of 2.25 percent, 2 and then 2.25 percent again in the final year. The contract expires June 30, 2018. By state law, teachers’ contracts can’t last any longer than three years. Each member of the NTA also will receive a one-time payment of $500 for the contract agreement. 

“We are moving forward. We look forward to making progress,” Thimke said.

The union president said he doesn’t think there was “one single issue” that was a sticking point during the negotiations. Thimke declined to elaborate.

When asked the same question in a separate interview Wednesday, Superintendent George Fisk said he believed the biggest hurdle was “coming to an agreement that was appropriate for everyone around the table … being fair to everyone.”

The district and NTA negotiated a total of eight times starting in February. The Federal Mediation Conciliation Services assisted with the last four sessions. The Nov. 18 negotiation session lasted three hours before the two sides reached a tentative agreement. NTA members OK’d the contract Tuesday. The NTA negotiating team consisted of Thimke; Amy Krichbaum, a fourth-grade teacher at League Elementary; and Chris Cloud, who teaches social studies and psychology at Norwalk High School.   

The district and NTA released a joint statement about the new contract.

“Under the new negotiated agreement, members of the NTA will move to a new cost-saving healthcare benefit program as of Feb. 1, 2016. Members of (the) NTA will incur an increased contribution toward their healthcare benefit beginning with the 2016 school year,” according to the statement.

Fisk elaborated on the wellness plan Wednesday, saying teachers can get a lower deductible by completing various health screenings. 

“Our staff stepped up and made a big change with a wellness plan. That’s a plan that has incentives built in,” the superintendent said.

“It’s a big concession,” Thimke said. “It’s going to save the district a significant amount of money.”

According to the joint statement, “throughout the negotiations the board and the teachers were committed to keeping the district fiscally sound, while providing the teachers with a fair contract.”

“Agreements were put in place to better allow the administration and teachers to work through issues and provide the best possible environment for student education in the district,” district and NTA officials said.

In addition to the wellness plan, the key savings to the district include: Increased employee co-pays; potentially increased yearly deductibles; and additional tier of pharmaceutical co-pays and step therapy in 2015. For 2016-17 and 2017-18, there will be an increased employee contribution to healthcare.

The district and Ohio Association of Public School Employees, Local 269 — the union representing support staff — reached a contract agreement in the fall, several months before the NTA contract. 

“OAPSE never gets anything worse than what we get. It’s called the ’me too clause’,” Thimke said.

Norwalk teachers’ working spouses can be covered under the district’s insurance. However, Fisk said working spouses of OAPSE members have to take the insurance provided by the employers, called a “spousal clause.”

The teachers worked under an expired contract starting July 1. The original two-year contract started July 1, 2011. Then in 2013, it was extended for another two years. The expired contract included no raises, but teachers receive a “step” or increase in pay annually until year 15.

Also at Wednesday’s special meeting, the school board ratified the labor agreement with the Norwalk Middle Management Association and Executive Secretaries. The contract is retroactive to July 1 and expires June 30, 2018.

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