School district, AEA agree to soft freeze

Published 12:53 pm Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Austin Public School district and the Austin Education Association are both supportive of a soft freeze for teachers.

The district and the union reached a two-year contract agreement last week. The total package increase — at 5.5 percent — is considerably less than that of an average year. The district and the union say it is a fair compromise, given statewide financial concerns.

The contract was approved by 91 percent of AEA voters last week. 85 percent of union members voted. It has yet to be ratified by the school board.

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“We know the situation, and we were happy to work with the district on this,” AEA chief negotiator John Sullivan said.

“The district, and the state are hurting,” he added.

Facing no increase in state funding and the district’s failure to pass a referendum meant contract negotiations, which began last spring, centered on financial concerns.

The 2009-2010 package is a 2.46 percent increase. It offers no salary increase, and no changes to insurance. Steps and lane advancement — salary brackets determined by seniority and education level — will remain in place. Keeping the steps and lanes structure is what differentiates a soft freeze from a hard freeze.

In year one, teachers that are topped out with steps and lanes will receive a one-time payment of $750. That payment is meant to offset insurance increases, district superintendent David Krenz said.

The 2010-2011 package is a 3.04 percent increase. Again, there would be no salary increase, no changes to insurance and steps and lanes would remain in place. A tenth step would be added, and the first step eliminated. This would allow new incoming teachers to start at higher pay.

“This helps keep us competitive at the lower end to try to attract new teachers,” Krenz said.

“We think it is a good settlement at this point in time,” he continued.

Sullivan said that a typical agreement, in a different economic forecast, is an 8 to 10 percent total package increase. The increase accounts for a variety of factors, including insurance, funding for retirees and severance.

“I think we’re happy with how things turned out, all things considered,” Sullivan said.

The contract will be discussed by the school board on Jan. 11.