Teachers union, North Hills board agree to 5-year deal

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A five-year contract agreement between the North Hills School Board and the teachers union will give the district an advantage in planning for the next several years, district leaders say.

The school board and members of the North Hills Education Association, or NHEA, approved a five-year contract on Jan. 22 that will take effect after the current contract expires Aug. 23.

The school board voted unanimously to approve the agreement, which had the support of an “overwhelming majority” of union members, John Thomas, president of the NHEA said.

“From our perspective, this is very big and crucial for the district to get this agreement,” board President Ed Wielgus said. “This really does give us an edge for planning the next five years.”

The NHEA and district administrators have been negotiating since June. The agreement was approved eight months before the current contract expires.

Under the current contract, teachers' salaries in the 2013-2014 school year range from $43,665 to $95,514. That will rise to $45,127 to $99,126 next year.

North Hills spokeswoman Amanda Hartle said teachers across the pay scale will see an average raise of about $2,787 each year.

Teachers at the top of the pay scale, which accounts for about one-third of current teachers, will receive a 1- to 2-percent raise each year. Under the current contract, a teacher on the top step of the salary schedule makes between $89,085 and $95,514, depending on how much education the teacher has beyond a bachelor's degree.

The contract mandates that next year, each teacher will contribute $165 a month toward the cost of their insurance benefits, $10 more than they have been contributing. This number will increase $10 per year for the life of the contract.

With this increase, North Hills teachers will contribute the highest amount for their health insurance of any of the county's 42 suburban school districts, according to Hartle.

Thomas said coming to an agreement on salaries and benefits was the most challenging aspect of the negotiations, but people on both sides were cooperative and open. Neither side was surprised to reach an early contract.

“Both sides approached this thing seriously,” Thomas said. “It's not about concessions. It's about commitment.”

Hartle said it is difficult to project the overall cost of the contract, as administrators do not know how many teachers will be retiring, but, she said, the contract is a “fiscally responsible agreement” for the district.

There are no significant changes in working conditions in the new contract, Hartle said.

Superintendent Patrick Mannarino said the two sides were able to reach an early agreement because of cooperation on both sides and because the expiring contract was a base that strong and fair to both sides.

“We did everything we could because we are working in the best interest of the kids,” Mannarino said.

Paul Girdany, an Pennsylvania State Education Association, or PSEA, Uniserv representative who was involved in negotiations, said that union members and district officials had “a cooperative relationship.”

Fritz Fekete, Southwest Region advocacy coordinator for the PSEA, with which the NHEA is affiliated, said that a five-year contract is “not unusual at all if both parties are amenable.”

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. Reach her at kshea@tribweb.com or at 724-772-6353.

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