State College school board OKs new teacher contract

The State College Area school board approved a new teachers’ contract Monday, a move that ends two years of deadlock between the district and the teachers union and forces teachers to shoulder more health care costs.

The contract, which has a plan that doubles teachers’ deductibles before their insurance kicks in, applies to all of the 600-plus teachers in the district, regardless of whether they are union members. It is retroactive to July 1, 2011, the day after the last contract expired, and goes through June 30, 2015.

The board gave its OK unanimously, although member Laurel Zydney said the contract will put the district in some difficult situations financially.

Board President Penni Fishbaine said she was pleased the issue has been resolved.

“Teachers are at the core of our mission, and we value their dedication to our students and district,” she said.

Union President Holli Jo Warner would not say she was pleased with the contract. Instead, she said she was “optimistic that we can go forward from here in building productive and collaborative relationships.”

The contract is online at

Under the contract, teachers will have to choose between two health care plans, one with a higher monthly premium and a lower deductible called Plan A and the other with a lower monthly premium and a higher deductible, called Plan B.

Under the previous contract that started in 2006-2007, the deductible was $250 for the employee and $500 for family. The monthly premium started at $35 with a $5 increase each year.

Under Plan A during 2012-13, the monthly premium ranges from $55 for just the employee to $140 for a family. The deductible for Plan A for in-network care is the same $250 for the individual and $500 for the family.

Under Plan B during 2012-13, the monthly premium ranges from $20 for the employee to $50 for the family. Plan B calls for a $500 deductible for the employee and $1,000 for the family.

Both plans have higher copays of $25, which is up from $20 under the previous contract.

The teachers must pay the difference for any health care costs that were billed under the old contract and now not covered under the new one.

Warner has said the costs in health care may result in a net decrease in take-home pay for some teachers.

Employees who opt out of health insurance will be paid $2,000.

Other changes to the insurance plans deal with part-time employees and spouses who have insurance available to them from certain employers.

Part-time employees hired after July 1 will not be eligible for benefits.

Teachers’ spouses or domestic partners who work at Penn State, Mount Nittany Medical Center, Centre County government or another school district cannot be on the district’s insurance.

Another change is the way the district reimburses its teachers for tuition they pay for graduate courses. There will be a pool of $300,000 for reimbursement available each year of the contract on a first-come, first-served basis.

In 2012-13, the district will reimburse teachers $587 per credit. That rises to $598 per credit next year and $610 per credit in 2014-15.

By comparison, graduate education courses at Penn State cost $736 per credit.

The previous contract said the district would pay 85 percent of the cost of a Penn State class according to the tuition from 2006-2007.

The contract does give teachers pay raises for this year and the next two years of the contract. Teachers' pay was frozen in 2011-2012.

A teacher with no experience will be paid $42,377 in 2012-13, and next year, the starting salary is $42,856.

Under the contract, the most a teacher can earn this school year is $85,052, which requires a doctoral degree plus at least 22 years of service.

The process for developing this contract has been two years in the making.

Negotiations between the teachers union and the district started in January 2011, but after 30 face-to-face discussions during 2011 and 2012, the sides could not reach an agreement. In November, the district asked the state to appoint a fact-finder, who took testimony about each side’s issues and developed a report with recommendations to resolve the stalemate.

The school board accepted the fact-finder’s report Jan. 14. The teachers union accepted the report two days later, which provided the basis for the contract. If either side had rejected it, the report would have been made available and the sides would have had to continue negotiating.