By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
The Akron school board agreed Monday to a two-year contract with the teachers' union that freezes base salaries, but includes a one-time bonus and one paid personal day.
The Akron Education Association, which represents 1,800 full-time and 300 part-time certified employees, mostly teachers, voted 97 percent in favor of the deal on Sunday.
''It was well received by the membership,'' said AEA president Jeff Moats.
The last time Akron teachers received an across-the-board pay raise was two years ago.
They agreed to a one-year rollover contract last year and will go two more years without a change to the salary structure, although step increases for educational attainment and years of experience will continue.
The deal includes a one-time, lump-sum payment of 2 percent of an employees' current base pay by the end of this year.
Beginning teachers in Akron earn annual salaries starting in the mid-$30,000s and can eventually make more than $70,000 annually with 30 years experience and a master's degree.
A teacher making $50,000 a year in base pay would receive a $1,000 one-time bonus.
Superintendent David James estimated the average payment will be between $1,100 and $1,500. The AEA is the largest of six unions negotiating for new contracts this year.
The other five unions are expected to follow suit, James said.
If the other unions agree to the same deal, the one-time payments are expected to cost the district just over $3 million, James said.
The district and the union were due to present their cases to an independent fact-finder on Oct. 13.
''Sometimes when you go to fact-finding, you don't know what you're going to get,'' James said. ''It's better, I think, for us to deal with our own future here in cooperation with our union than turning those things over to a neutral party.''
The union and the district will revive a ''health benefits advisory committee'' that will include administration officials and representatives of all the unions.
They will work on a plan to save $2 million in health-care costs. The changes would go into effect on the next contract, which would begin July 1, 2012.
A similar committee was formed in 2007 to deal with health care away from the negotiating table. That committee was charged with reducing health costs by $1.5 million.
''The last time we did this, we increased our prescription co-pay and we have deductibles now,'' Moats said. ''We realized $1.5 million in savings.''
The union also agreed to a wellness program effective next July.
''We're estimating that about 1.5 million could be saved yearly from implementing a good wellness program based on lower claims,'' James said.
One issue the district did want to deal with in this contract was the cost, both in money and education, of replacing absent teachers with substitutes.
Management and union representatives will review cases where teachers are suspected of taking sick days when they're not sick.
Teachers suspected of malingering could be subjected to an attendance improvement plan with specific measurable goals and timelines.
''It will give us the ability to look at some of the folks who aren't in the classroom,'' James said. ''Because when they're not in the classroom and they're taking sick leave, that's costing us money but it's also affecting education.''
Both sides agreed to limit the number of excuses for missing a day of work.
Teachers will no longer be able to take a day off to:
• Attend a ceremony where the teacher or a member of his immediate family is receiving an award of major significance.
• Appear with civic, musical or drama groups.
• Move into a new house.
• Help move a kid into an out-of-town college.
• Attend a pension conference of the state retirement system (one excused day had been allowed during a career).
• Attend the funeral service of a close friend.
However, in exchange for those concessions, Akron teachers won something they've never had before: a paid personal day to use however they choose.