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2 board members unhappy with teachers contract

Two members of the South Butler County School Board are disappointed that a three-year teachers contract was approved after just two meetings between the district and teachers union.

Rebecca Boyd and Debra Miller voted against the contract Wednesday while the seven other board members voted in favor.

“Good, equitable, fair agreements take a lot more than two sessions to craft,” Boyd said.

She pointed to Seneca Valley's recent agreement, which gave the teachers an average 4.2% annual pay increase in return for two additional work days and a less expensive health care plan.

“The money they saved on health care will help finance their higher wages,” Boyd said.

In the deal, which takes effect July 1, 2022 and expires June 30, 2025, teachers at South Butler will receive a pay increase of 3.25% in the first year, 3.35% in the second year and 3.4% in the third year and will not pay any more for health care.

“Their contribution for health care will remain frozen for four years at $80 per month for family coverage that currently costs the district $20,700 per year,” Boyd said.

She worries that ever-increasing health care costs will necessitate a tax increase at some point.

“Just as our taxpayers continue to pay more for their health care every year, so too should our teachers,” Boyd said. “The million dollar question is: Were they even asked to pay more?”

As chairwoman of the board's finance committee, Boyd has not seen details on the cost to the district of the new agreement over its three-year term.

“Without that information, it's hard to assess the effect on our budget,” Boyd said. “It's too bad that less expensive health care plans were not pursued.”

She said some of those savings could have been used to increase teacher wages, possibly above what they will receive in the new contract.

“All without placing additional burden on our taxpayers,” Boyd said.

Boyd lamented that more time was not spent to pursue creative ways to craft an agreement that would be fair to teachers and the district as well.

“We could have done so much better, for the teachers, the administration and the taxpayers,” Boyd said. “It just required more time and effort than a mere two sessions.”

Miller stated her appreciation for the South Butler teachers' efforts and dedication over the past two years.

She said because of that dedication, a love of teaching was instilled in her daughter, who is in her sixth year as a high school math teacher in Durham, N.C.

“I have to admit that I'm disappointed in the bargaining team representing the board,” Miller said. “I'm frustrated that there was an apparent rush to come to an agreement, which gave the remainder of the board a five-day notice prior to their second and final meeting with the teachers' negotiating team.”

She said the speed of the contract agreement didn't allow for careful consideration of all factors, and that the two new board members who will join the board in December will have to live with the contract's impact while the two who voted in favor will leave the board.

She said the teachers at or near their career salary got the best deal in the contract.

“But I'm concerned that those teachers below that top level will ultimately feel the effects of this agreement,” Miller said.

She seemed to agree with Boyd that rising costs could mean the board will be forced to grapple with a tax increase in upcoming years.

“The taxpayers will feel the impact of this agreement,” Miller said.

But Donna Eakin, board president, was glad that an agreement was reached so effortlessly.

The current contract, which expires June 30, was reached in 2018 after a four-year labor dispute that included a teachers strike in March of that year.

Eakin said all at the table at the July 8 and Aug. 9 contract meetings were interested in reaching an agreement before January.

Eakin said the new deal is more an extension of the current contract than a newly hammered-out contract.

“I think the meetings were very productive and everyone at the table was able to develop a contract extension that was acceptable to both parties without the need for further negotiation,” Eakin said.

She disagreed that a tax increase will be necessary, saying any increased cost will be fitted into upcoming budgets.

“I ran on 'great schools and low taxes,' and this contract upholds that campaign slogan,” Eakin said.

The contract represents 162 teachers in the South Butler district.