BTA, board talks conclude

The Bethlehem school board has approved a new contract with the Bethlehem Teachers Association that calls for 3.2 percent salary increases across the board over the next four years and more teacher givebacks in health insurance costs.

Neither side achieved everything they would have liked, said Superintendent Les Loomis.

Negotiations took place over a year, with teachers overwhelmingly approving the contract one day before the school board meeting by close to 97 percent.

"It's a very positive development," said school board president Stuart Lyman. "We all have a big job ahead of us, and having that relationship on solid ground is a significant step," Lyman added.

Highlights of the new contract include district cost savings in health insurance, with teachers contributing up to 10 percent more over a three-year period. Teachers will also pay more for regular doctor visits and prescription drugs through their co-pay contributions.

"This contract balances the need to keep our budget increase reasonable," said Loomis.

Another new clause in the approved contract calls for the school year to start one day earlier next year for middle and high school students. In 2008, elementary students will also begin the school year on the Wednesday following Labor Day.

"These negotiations take time," said board member James Lytle.

Voters in the Bethlehem School District rejected their first school budget in more than 20 years in May. Loomis said the budget vote did have an impact on teacher negotiations districtwide.

"It put negotiations on hold temporarily," said Loomis. "The board was not willing to go forward until they knew what the district's financial status was."

Now that the teachers' contract has been ratified, the board is looking forward to working with other groups in the district to come up with a contract that serves the district, taxpayers and school employees. These groups include the Bethlehem Central United Employees Association and the Bethlehem Principals Association. The BCUEA are in the second year of a three-year contract. The BPA group opened the school year without a contract.

"We certainly will be reaching out to our other support unions on our health insurance concerns and other cost-saving measures," said board member Richard Svenson.

Loomis and the board gave special mention to teachers association president Dave Rounds and his team for their negotiation efforts.

"It was a very positive relationship," said Loomis. "We can move ahead and concentrate on education here.""

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