Two major points of contention between USD 234 teachers and the Board of Education have been settled and teachers in the district should be receiving their 2012-2013 contracts in the mail soon.
At issue in the more than six-month negotiations were lost steps on the teachers' salary schedule and additional insurance contributions for district educators.
The contract, which was ratified by the board last Thursday and by teachers on Monday, will give 45 instructors who had "bottomed out" or were stuck at the final spot on their pay scales, a half-percent stipend. Fort Scott-Kansas National Education Association negotiators had initially asked for 1 percent.
Janet Braun, USD 234 Board president, said those checks should be mailed out in late November.
In June, the district made up "lost" steps from three previous years for those teachers who would have moved on the salary schedule, but did not. Teachers received those checks in July out of leftover funds from the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
Also in June, the two sides agreed to movement on the salary schedule for teachers who had earned advanced degrees, provided a 1 percent raise for all teachers and the movement of one step on the salary schedule for this year.
"As a total package, I think this was the best we could get at this point in time," said Bert Lewis, FS-KNEA chief negotiator. "When you take the step increases paid in July and this additional step increase now with the 1 percent overall increase, that's a good package."
According to Lewis, the contract also allows for an additional allotment of $25 per month for insurance premiums, bringing a teacher with a single plan up from $360 to $385 per month.
Teachers had originally asked for a $30 increase, while the board offered $20.
The two sides also reached agreements in earlier meetings on leave issues, agreeing to allow leave days to roll over to the next year as sick leave only.
Teachers currently are granted 10 discretionary leave days per year.
Supplemental salaries also were addressed, with the agreement of a 2 percent increase and the addition of a district wellness coordinator for $534 supplemental salary.
Both sides also agreed to the creation of a five to nine person committee to study a 403 B matching plan for early retirement. 403 B's are a tax-advantaged retirement savings plan available for public education organizations, some non-profit employers, cooperative hospital service organizations and self-employed ministers, references said.
Braun said the board is working diligently to get the wording of the contracts updated.
"Contracts will then be sent to all teachers," Braun said. "The correct wording will be added to the 2012-13 Negotiated Agreement and it will be signed by Diane Gross, the superintendent, and me for the board team and by Bert Lewis, the chief negotiator and Nichole Pellett, the president for the teachers' team."
The contract was ratified by a majority vote of more than half the teachers in the district. Lewis said it is FS-KNEA policy to not divulge the actual vote count, but added that they were negotiating for more than 150 teachers and that of the 115 votes cast, the contract was passed with what Lewis said was a "good majority."
"I am happy that we were able to reach a tentative agreement and that ratification occurred for both sides," Braun said. " Neither team came away with all of the items initially proposed. However, each team did take away a package that resulted in ratification. I believe all of us feel good about that."
Lewis said she is pleased with the interest Braun has taken in the process.
The agreement concludes negotiations that began last February. An outside federal mediator, Patrick Dunn, was present at Monday's meeting.
"With Patrick Dunn's help, we were able to reach a satisfactory compromise during our mediation session. Now everyone, both the board and the teachers, can turn their full attention to the new school year," Braun said.