2017-08-12 / Front Page

Board, teachers’ union impasse continues

Unionized teachers in the Cameron County School District will likely return to the classroom later this month without a labor contract in place. They’ll be working under the terms of an agreement that expired more than two years ago.

School Board members have held firm against the union’s calls for 2.75-percent annual pay increases, as well as other contract stipulations. The two sides are also at odds over how much teachers should pay in cost-sharing for health insurance.

A state-appointed arbitrator’s settlement proposal was accepted by the union, but the School Board last week rejected it. The board has held its ground on an offer of two-percent annual salary increases, citing the economic consequences of declining enrollment, population decline, chronic unemployment and a five-year string of budget deficits.

Board members also point out that Cameron County’s teacher salaries fall among the top half of all public school districts in Cameron, Potter and McKean counties, even though the district is among the lowest in enrollment.

Union negotiators have challenged the math, pointing out that the district’s budgets have regularly overestimated expenditures to a tune of $2.7 million over five years. They also claim the district has been carrying a reserve fund averaging $3.7 million annually over the same time frame.

The School Board seeks to increase teachers’ co-pays for health insurance and establish in-network and out-of-network deductibles. Retirement incentives are also unresolved, with the district looking to impose restrictions based on the number of teachers participating.

The state arbitrator’s settlement recommendation called for the 2.3-percent pay hikes, retroactive to July 1, 2016. Health insurance payments would be increased by $10 per month to $40 in the first year of the contract, eventually rising to $70 per month by the end of the contract term in 2019-20. The district’s request for additional deductible payments was endorsed.

Retirement incentive would also remain in place, but without the participation limitations.

School board members were expected to continue debate on the union contract behind closed doors on Thursday night.

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