BKW contract includes five-year raise schedule, insurance changes

BERNE — Last month, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board approved a memorandum of agreement to a four-year contract with the BKW Teachers’ Association.

The contract includes a raise schedule for teachers — beginning teachers in the contract’s first year earned $40,006 and in the fourth and final year of the contract will earn $42,356; teachers on the top, 29th step, at the start earned $89,688 and in the fourth year will earn $94,535.

Changes to insurance have teachers paying for a greater percentage each year of their health-insurance costs. Another change is the deduction of mandatory agency fees due to a recent Supreme Court decision.

The contract, which runs from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2022, was passed a year-and-a-half ago, but it took until last month to “clean it up,” Superintendent Timothy Mundell said at a December school board meeting.

Teachers’ Association President Phil Matthews, a secondary school teacher, declined to comment without looking into the subject of the memorandum of agreement and the contract further, and deferred some questions to the superintendent, who did not return calls before press time.

In 2014, the board adopted a 10-year agreement with the Teachers’ Association that included raises for members in total of 5.5-percent up until this year as well as a one-time payment of $180,000 split between 80-some teachers that year. Then-interim Superintendent Lonnie Palmer said the agreement would still save the district money due to reductions in health-insurance costs.

Insurance

Under the section for insurance benefits, the memorandum adds to the contract a stipulation that the district have two open-enrollment periods each year allowing teachers to switch plans, with one in December and one July.

Under the original contract, insurance plans include the Empire Preferred Provider Organization, as well as plans under the Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan, and Mohawk Valley Physicians Health Care.

Teachers in individual plans will pay 13-percent of their insurance costs effective July 1, 2017; 14-percent effective July 1, 2019, 15-percent effective July 1, 2020, and 16-percent effective July 1, 2021. To opt out of the insurance offered by the district, a member must pay $3,000 annually.

Those in two-person or family plans will pay 15-percent of their insurance costs effective July 2017; 17-percent effective 2018; 18-percent effective 2019; 19-percent 2020; and 20-percent by July 2021. Anyone hired after July 1, 2014 will pay 17-percent toward a dependent plan.

Retirees will pay toward insurance based on when they were last employed. For those retiring after June 30, 2017, contributions to health insurance will be based on the year in which they retire. For individuals, contributions would be 5-percent effective July 1, 2017, and 6.5-percent effective 2018. For dependent coverage, contributions would be 13.4-percent effective 2017 and 14-percent effective 2018.

For prescription plans, teachers who were employed as of June 30, 2014 will contribute 5-percent as individuals or 11-percent for dependent plans. Copays for drugs are $5, $20, or $35 with a two copay-requirement for a mail-ordered 90-day supply. Teacher may also choose to use the prescription-drug company CANARx, though the district may cancel offering this at any time. CANARx is a company that offers mail-order prescription drugs from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia at a lower cost than many prescriptions filled in the United States.

The district provides a dental-insurance plan, contributing 100-percent of the individual premium and 75-percent of the family premium.

Agency fees

The memorandum also removes a section on agency fees, as they are no longer valid since the United States Supreme Court decided in June that union fees in the public sector violate the First Amendment. The superintendent said in December said that even non-union members receive benefits.

The BKW contract had originally stated that those who were not part of the Teachers’ Association would be required to pay a service charge equal to the union members’ dues.

The Supreme Court decided in June 2018 that state and public-sector unions may no longer charge fees to employees unless they consent to them. Mark Janus, who worked for the Illinois state government, filed a complaint challenging the constitutionality of the agency fees charged to him by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which Janus refused to join and was opposed to politically. The Supreme Court decision was considered a blow for public-sector unions as it opened them to the possibility of losing members and funds.

In April, in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation stating that unions do not have to provide full benefits of membership to those who do not pay union dues. Cuomo also signed a mostly symbolic executive order the day of the Supreme Court decision, protecting workers’ information so unions couldn’t reach them to prevent campaigns to have them leave.

Damien LaVera, the communications director at the New York State United Teachers, said that about 400 of 400,000 teachers in the statewide union left following the Janus decision. LaVera said that the small drop was not a concern, and said that the union had increased efforts encouraging teachers to stay with NYSUT and their teachers’ association.

Salaries and performance review

The contract also has salaries increasing by approximately 1-percent from 2017 to 2022, with salaries divided up into 29 “steps,” in which teachers receive an automatic raise annually as they move into a different step.

Those in Step 1 in the 2017-18 school year will earn $40,006 and those in the highest step will earn $89,688. In the 2021-22 school year, Step 1 employees will earn $42,356.25 and those in Step 29 will earn $94,534.55.

Teachers with master’s or doctoral degrees will be paid $952 annually, and teachers will be eligible to be paid for graduate credit hours at $66 an hour, up to 81 hours.

Both tenured and probationary teachers will be evaluated under the Annual Professional Performance Review, required under state law. For probationary teachers, this review determines in part if the member will continue to work at BKW; probationary teachers cannot have arbitration for discipline or dismissal. Other teachers not covered by APPR will create a professional portfolio for the district to review, and observations of these teachers may be conducted as well.

Other changes

Under the section on personal and sick leave, the memorandum of agreement removes a section on taking personal days before or after a holiday or break; formerly, the one day allowed was an unpaid personal day, granted based on seniority and past use. The section now states that only one personal day will be allowed.

The memorandum also removes a paragraph requiring a committee of staff and administrators to examine the impact of distance learning on teachers, stating that the committee is no longer active.

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