When Collingswood teachers begin the 2012-23 school year, it will be with a new, three-year contract.
The deal was quietly inked over the summer, the work of a handful of productive, “reasonable” meetings between the Collingswood Education Association (CEA) and the , said Superintendent Scott Oswald, who described the negotiations as “starting on a good foot.”
“We weren’t miles apart by any means,” he said. “I think teachers had a very reasonable view of the economy, and I think the board did as well. We really went point by point and worked towards narrowing any gaps that existed between the two proposals.”
Throughout the three-month process (February to May), “there really wasn’t any negative energy in the room at all,” Oswald said.
“It was very refreshing,” he said.
Patch made repeated outreach to CEA union representative Richard Pentz, seeking comment for this story. He did not return phone calls.
There’s something for both sides in the new collective bargaining agreement. For educators, it’s an average salary increase of 2.5 percent annually over the length of the three-year deal. The gains from the perspective of the board are slightly more technical.
First, the teachers will effectively work an extra day every year, which Oswald said is “a big deal in the education association.” It’s also a necessity for professional development as the district rolls out new , standardized testing and Common Core Standards.
“If we needed to cut the school year back to 182 and have four professional development days, we can do that now,” Oswald said. “That’s kind of minor, but it provides us with a lot of flexibility.”
The teachers also agreed to offer to better accommodate the schedules of working parents. Along those lines, the teachers agreed to allow the district to adjust the middle school and high school schedules to do some modified block scheduling.
“We can now offer hour-long periods, creative scheduling, that we think can help teaching happen at a deeper level,” Oswald said. “If I give you 50 percent more time, teachers should be able to go more deeply into a concept. That should happen by 2013-14.”
The district also restructured the times when teachers can step up on the salary scale upon completion of advanced credits; they can now increase their earnings once in the summer and once in the winter.
Another key difference in the new CBA is that, in accordance with the New Jersey Pension and Health Benefits Reform Act, teachers no longer have noncontributory health benefit plans. The minimum any teacher will pay is 1.5 percent of his or her salary; that figure increases annually, and with earnings.
To reflect that increased cost, the district will offer some lower-premium insurance plans.
“Now that everybody’s contributing to their benefits, everybody’s got a little skin in the game,” Oswald said. “That will benefit the taxpayers. If you’re a fresh, out-of-college, younger teacher and you don’t have any medical issues, those folks may opt into a plan that comes at a lower premium.
“I think the biggest thing is a mindset change,” he said. “People are going to make their decisions a little more carefully because they’re going to have to change the decisions they make.”