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EXCLUSIVE: Bethlehem School District approves new union contract

Following an executive session held by the Bethlehem Board of Education at 8:15 this morning, the board unanimously approved the Bethlehem Central United Employee Association (BCUEA) contract from July 1, 2008 until June 30, 2012.

The settlement includes significant employee health insurance concessions that will reduce district expenditures, according to a release from the district, and the new contract contains an average annual overall salary increase of 2.6 percent plus step increases over the life of the contract.

The BCUEA encompasses the district's support staff, including bus drivers, custodians, and secretaries. Their last four-year contract contained an average salary increase of 3.1 percent per year plus step increases and starting salary for first-year bus drivers is $29,247 and for first-year custodians, $30,756.

The new contract's insurance costs reductions will save the district an estimated $210,000 in 2008-09, according to the district's spokesman, Matt Leon.

Contract negotiations have been ongoing, according to board president James Lytle, and the union had agreed to the conditions of the contract last night and recommended its approval to the board.

We've been engaging in negotiations for the last several months, fairly intensely, a lot of issues on the table including some significant health insurance concessions, Lytle said at the meeting. "Important changes allow us to be more flexible with the employees as you gain additional proficiencies in number of different areas it has been recommended to us by the negotiating team to approve this contract."

District officials said the contract calls for fair salary increases for valued employees and substantial savings in three areas: health insurance costs; improved transportation staffing and routing efficiency; and limitations on worker's compensation costs.

"In particular, the contract calls for a significant increase in employee contributions to health insurance premiums for family coverage," according to a district release. "Additional savings will come with greater staffing efficiency within the Transportation Department, including a reduction in mid-day bus runs when the district implements full-day kindergarten in 2009-10."

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