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January 14. 2013 11:45PM

Contract makes wages 'competitive,' says Bedford's teachers rep

BEDFORD - The majority of teachers would see wage increases if voters approve a two-year teacher contract in March. But teachers agreed to pay a higher portion of their health insurance premiums, something the chief negotiator representing the teachers called the largest concession of the negotiations.

Bedford Education Association president Nate Fellman said the deal struck between the union and the district attempts to close the pay gap between Bedford and its peer districts.

"Rather than trying to give everyone an increase, we're going to give increases to the salaries that need them in order to be competitive," said Fellman, one of nine negotiators who met weekly between October and December to iron out a budget for the 2013 and 2014 school years.

This wouldn't be the first time teachers agreed to pay a larger share of health-care costs. The current one-year contract, approved by voters last year, has teachers paying six percent more on insurance premiums than before, reducing the district's share to 88 percent. Under the new contract, the district would pay 85 percent.

If approved in March, teachers' share of insurance premiums would increase depending on family size. Single teachers would pay an additional one percent, teachers in two-person families would pay another two percent, and larger families would pay another three percent. Individually, these teachers would pay an added $82, $328 and $665.

"That's a pretty significant hit to a teacher's salary when they have to pay that out of pocket, but they've agreed to that," said superintendent Tim Mayes, who was also at the negotiating table.

Fellman noted that teachers' share would increase over the duration of the two contracts from six percent to 15 percent.

"This really helps the district control costs of premiums," he said.

He said teachers with the single plan now receive less net compensation than their colleagues with families. "(They) are actually from a net compensation perspective not as competitive as people with the family plan."

The district spends about $8.7 million on insurance for all its workers.

Under the contract, $729,048 would be added to fund salary increases in 2013 - a number that would rise to $860,857 in 2014. Mayes said about two-thirds of teachers would see a raise of as much as $2,800. Teachers with more seniority in the district, whose wages are already competitive in the region, would see no raise, nor would the rate of their insurance contributions increase.

Mayes said Bedford teachers don't expect to be the top earners among their peers, but that it's a goal to close the gap and be in the top quartile of wage earners.

If approved, the proposed 2013 budget would increase the tax rate by 52 cents to a projected $15.35 per $1,000 valuation. Twenty-one cents of that increase would result from the teachers contract; the remaining 31 cents would be from two other collective bargaining agreements and other increases.

Fellman has high hopes for the new contract. "I would expect this one to pass as well (as last year's contract)," he said.

"Certainly that's what we're going to be working with the board on doing."

The budget will be presented to the community at the deliberative session on Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. at Bedford High School. Voting day is March 12.

srios@newstote.com

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