Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

June 19, 2013

Newfane district declares impasse with teachers

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — NEWFANE - A mediator will be brought in to help contract negotiations between the Newfane Central School District and its teachers union, following the district’s declaration of an impasse Tuesday.

Board of Education Trustee Patrick Kilcullen, who served on the district’s negotiating team, said there were five issues separating the sides with healthcare costs being the biggest. Among the other issues were salaries, coaches evaluations, work day structure and time off. 

Healthcare has an extreme effect on the Newfane budget, Kilcullen said, as retiree healthcare liability is the single largest liability Newfane has. It exceeds the value of the district’s outstanding bonds and its net value of building and equipment.

“It’s an extremely significant component and presents a challenge to the district’s long-term financial stability,” Kilcullen said.

Under the current formula, a percentage of health insurance is paid for retirees until they reach 70 years of age. But to get to that percentage, the formula is unused days off divided by 200 then multiplied by 100.

For retirees with 200 unused days, that have 100 percent coverage until 70. Those with 230 days will have 100 percent coverage until 73, while those with 400 unused days would have complete coverage until they hit 90. One couples plan, assuming a 10 percent increase per year would cost Newfane a total of $196,986 over 10 years.

The NTA offered to change the divisor in the formula to 210, reducing the percentage for those retirees with 200 unused days to 95 percent. Those with 400 days would have complete coverage until they turn 88 years old.

The district countered with a proposal that links accrued leave days with the percentage. Those with less than 150 days would receive no coverage from the district, while those with up to 300 days would receive 100 percent coverage for 10 years. For every day over 300, the retiree would receive the daily rate according to step 1 of the master schedule, which is $209 per day.

Kilcullen said an actuarial study said capping retire healthcare at 10 years would be more effective at reducing costs. Newfane can’t afford the current system or the NTA’s proposal, Kilcullen said.

For current employees, the NTA proposed employees contributing 1 percent of their base salary toward healthcare. The district’s offer is to start with 1 percent in the 2013-14 year, then increase it to 2.5 percent in 2014-15, 2.7 percent in 2015-16 and 3.5 percent in 2016-17. The 1 percent contribution is about $400 for teachers on the low steps of the salary schedule and $800 on the top, which is not enough to curb costs, Kilcullen said. 

The Newfane Teachers Association has been working for over three years without a contract, as the previous deal expired in June 2010. A one-year extension was agreed upon for the 2010-11 school year.

Both sides met for 38 sessions between 2010-11 and the current school year. The NTA wanted to continue talks in September, but district officials felt the sides were too far apart.

Once a mediator is appointed by the state Public Employment Relations Board, up to three mediation sessions will be held. There could also be a fact finding hearing, where the relations board would set up a panel that will take testimony, hold hearings and issue a report with recommendations on how to resolve the impasse.

If that doesn’t work, the sides will continue negotiations.

Kilcullen said the sides did agree on assigning a flexible schedule based on seniority, as well as assigning a second professional supervisory period for tutoring instead of a study hall or hall duty period. Those settled the work day structure issue.

Newfane officials want to prohibit the use of compensatory days off to extend winter or spring recess. Kilcullen said secondary teachers can use the days to extend their winter or spring breaks, but elementary teachers cannot.

The NTA wants to keep the system the way it is, where each teacher receives 17 leave days without the restriction.

Both teachers and the district are close on the coaches evaluations, but officials need to make sure the evaluation process won’t become too burdensome for building administrators.

Progress was made in the salary issue, as the NTA’s offer of retaining the current salary schedule with additional money added to the top step accepted by the district. However, the issue is the increase, as the sides have different percentages.

For example, teachers who have been frozen at the top step would receive a 3 percent “longevity step” increase under the union plan. That would be followed by 1 percent increases until June 30, 2017 when the longevity increases end.

Under the district proposal, those same teachers would receive a 2 percent bump, then a 1.5 percent increase in 2014-15, followed by 1 percent each in the next two years.

Newfane teacher Troy Sellers, the NTA president, said contract negotiations have evolved in many ways. Kilcullen’s presentation to the Board of Education on Wednesday was just a brief look at a nearly four-year process, Sellers said. 

“It’s unfair to base judgement on a snapshot in time,” Sellers said.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.