The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

November 30, 2012

Portage teachers, board OK contract

PORTAGE — After working for five months without a contract, the 72 teachers in the Portage Area School District now have an agreement that gives them a pay raise while they pick up a greater share of health care costs.

“We think it’s a contract we can live with,” James Johnson, president of the Portage Area Education Association, said minutes after the school board, in a special meeting, voted 8-0 to approve the three-year pact.

The union earlier voted 54-7 in favor of the agreement, Johnson said.

District teachers will receive average annual pay raises of 2.72 percent, which equates to an average increase of $1,275 annually. That’s down from the $1,840 annual increase they received during each of the prior contract’s last five years, district Superintendent Richard Bernazzoli said.

School board President Kathy Hough was pleased to see an end to the negotiations, which began in January.

“We feel we did the best for the teachers, our school district and the taxpayers,” she said.

“It was negotiations. There were concessions on both sides.”

The deal eliminates an incentive for the district to continue paying its share of health care costs for retiring teachers until they reach 65, the eligibility age for Medicare.

Additionally, the teachers will pick up a greater share of health care costs, with in-network and out-of-network deductibles more than doubling.

Information from the board shows the increased teacher share of the deductible could result in an annual savings to the district of $60,000 to $112,000.

Changes were made in the new contract regarding personal days and sick leave, and the language was tightened up regarding bereavement time.

Teachers agreed to add a meet-the-teacher night in early September during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years.

Dennis Squillario was the only board member to voice any dissatisfaction with the contract. While voting in favor of the plan, he said it was with regrets.

When questioned later about his vote, Squillario said: “I didn’t like the deal.” He refused to provide any specifics.

Only eight of the nine school board members voted on the contract because 20-year board member Stu Leman recently died.

Following the meeting, members met with six district residents who wrote letters indicating their interest in filling the vacancy created by Leman’s death.

Hough said the board anticipates reaching a consensus with approval of the new member likely at the Dec. 12 meeting.

Leman’s term was to expire at the end of 2013. The person who is named to the post will have to circulate petitions and be a candidate in the 2013 election in order to continue to serve.

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