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Union settles district contract

After months of complex negotiations, the Niskayuna school district has reached a contract with its local teachers union that keeps average pay raises below five percent for the foreseeable future. Terms of the five-year agreement fit within the district's $60.3 million annual budget and won't have an impact on property taxes this year. No layoffs are planned under the terms, and district officials are very supportive of the settlement.

We set a goal of reaching a five-year agreement, and we achieved it, the district's Assistant Superintendent for Business Matthew Bourgeois said. "The school board set a target of keeping cost increases at five percent a year or less, and we have achieved that. This will also give taxpayers and the district some long-term stability and allow us to have predictable costs for years to come."

Under the new contract, teachers will average an overall four and half percent pay hike per year. The four health insurance plans that have been available will be scrapped in favor of a single company, leaving teachers and retirees with Blue Cross for their health care needs. The district expects to benefit from that move by gaining access to information about how the insurance plan is being used.

"Managed health plans like HMOs don't provide information about how our employees are using their services. They call it proprietary, and we don't have any way of finding out how our employees are utilizing the plan," said Bourgeois. "Now we will gain access to that information and can look at whether they are making use of mail-order prescriptions and other possible money savers."

A suburban school district with 750 active and retired teachers, Niskayuna has made maintaining high staff morale an important priority of their educational plan. In the race for school board last year, retired teacher Bill Winchester garnered a seat after highlighting the need for local educators to use innovative teaching strategies in reaching young people. Incumbent school board president Barbara Mauro also stressed the importance of supporting the district's staff in her successful re-election bid.

Local voters have also shown support for the school system by supporting the annual budget by a 1,808 to 1,318 margin at the polls on May 16. In an earlier vote, taxpayers backed a $95 million construction project by a substantial margin in December. Meant to modernize classroom space and address increasingly stringent state requirements, that project is still in the design phase. ""

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