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Article updated: 11/21/2012 5:41 AM

Dist. 304 board approves new teacher contract

By James Fuller

Geneva school board members on Tuesday ratified a new three-year teacher contract that starts inching District 304 toward several major financial changes.

The Geneva Education Association approved the contract last week after threatening to strike starting Nov. 12. Negotiations began in February.

The immediate impact to district taxpayers comes in the form of a pay freeze for almost all of the district's teachers for the 2012-13 school year. Teachers who complete advanced degree coursework will still be eligible for salary increases according to their level of advancement.

Teachers who announce their retirement will leave the normal salary schedule to qualify for the new retirement benefits in the contract. The district has a retirement benefit structure designed to encourage retirement of teachers who are paid the most. It also encourages teachers who intend to retire in the 2014-15 school year to announce that now.

If they do so, the first step of retirement benefits would be a 6 percent pay increase from last year's salary. In 2013-14, that retiring teacher would receive a 3 percent pay increase. The final year, in 2014-15, brings a 2.48 percent pay increase. That blitz of raises is beyond what teachers who are not retiring are set to receive under the new contract. It also helps boost the pensions those teachers receive in retirement. However, school board President Mark Grosso said there is nothing untoward about the way the district handles the salaries of teachers who will retire soon.

"I don't consider our agreement by any means salary spiking," Grosso said. He said the structure encourages retirement to usher in younger, lower-paid teacher, which brings the district savings.

District 304 will also continue to provide a tax-sheltered annuity benefit to retirees of up to 20 percent of their final salary for teachers with more than 25 years of full-time experience in the district. The district relinquishes management of those annuities under the new contract by putting them into 403(b) accounts.

For most nonretiring teachers, the first pay increases won't come until the 2013-14 school year, when a 2.65 percent raise kicks in.

In the final year of the contract, most teachers will receive a 2.85 percent raise. The final year of the contract also includes a $79 increase to the beginning teacher salary, which will be $39,730 starting in 2014-15.

It's possible this is the final teacher contract that uses a salary schedule to calculate raises and pay advancements. A new salary schedule study group composed of teachers and administrators will meet to examine possible changes that would tie raises more to teacher performance than longevity.

"A number of other districts are moving away from a salary schedule, and we wanted the ability to work with our teachers to explore some other options," Grosso said.

The new contract also begins a three-year phasing out of the tuition reimbursement program for the staff. Teachers will also begin contributing to their health insurance premiums for the first time if they elect single coverage in the 2013-14 school year.

"This contract was a very long and difficult process for everyone," Grosso said. "I would like to thank teachers for making the same sacrifice that the rest of our employees have."

The school board approved the new contract 6-0. School board member Matt Henry was absent.

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