Teachers agree to new health plan in return for 3 years of raises

LACONIA – Pay for members of the School District's three labor unions will increase roughly 3 1/2 percent for each of the next three years under the terms of collective bargaining agreements approved by the School Board Tuesday evening.
The contracts between the School District and the unions –– the Laconia Education Association, the Education Association of Laconia and the Laconia Association of Support Staff — call for a 2 percent cost of living raise for each of the next three years, plus salary step increases for longevity and other factors.
The LEA, the largest of the three unions with between 200 and 220 members, represents teachers. The Education Association represents around 50 para-educators, such as classroom aides, as well as secretaries, while the Support Staff represents about a dozen maintenance personnel.
The new contracts had previously been separately approved by the membership of all three unions.
The cost items of the contracts must be approved by the City Council. School Board representatives are scheduled to meet with the council next Monday.
Superintendent Bob Champlin told the board Tuesday evening the contracts would not require adding any money to the district's proposed $34.8 million budget for the coming fiscal year. He said the increases in pay in the first year would be offset by savings in health insurance.
Champlin said that employees covered by the contract would be switched to a "consumer-driven model of health care."
Although individual employees would not contribute toward the cost of their premiums, School District Business Administrator Ed Emond explained that under the new plan the employees would incur higher deductibles for treatment and procedures and that employees would be able to set up health reimbursement accounts to help offset some of the costs of their care.
Champlin said that the combination of the 2 percent COLAs and step increases would amount to an average 3 1/2 increase in pay. But he said that when taking into account that school district employees have not had any pay increases for three years, the increase spread out over six years amounts to 1.6 percent a year. He said that pay raises were essential for Laconia to recruit and retain teachers, especially when neighboring districts, like Gilford and Inter-Lakes, offer better pay than Laconia.
School Board Chairman Joe Cormier said that keeping good teachers was a challenge because of the salary differences.
Other contract changes include raising the age of eligibility for retirement for teachers from 55 to 60, and paying for only single plan health insurance coverage for newly hired full-time para-educators.
Champlin told the board that even though the School District would still be paying the full cost of the employees' health insurance premiums, the cost will be less than if the district was offering a more standard kind of health insurance with the employees paying a portion of their premiums. He said the cost of a family plan under the more standard form of health insurance coverage is now about $30,000 a year, whereas under the plan called for in the contracts the cost of a family play will be $21,500.
Board member Beth Arsenault said she was impressed with the cooperation the unions had shown during the negotiation process that it was good to be able to reward them with raises after a negotiated three-year pay freeze.