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School, Teachers Agree to New Contract

Changes help the district save about $1 million in 2010-2011 school year

The Board of Education agreed on terms for a new three-year contract with the district's teachers and support staff that will help Westfield Public Schools cut more than $1 million from the 2010-2011 school-year budget.

The bulk of the savings include changes to health insurance, including eliminating traditional indemnity insurance, increasing office visit and prescription co-pays and require contributions from employees into the plan.

"The positive reaction by our teachers to recognize the fiscal challenges facing the district and taxpayers was evident," said Board of Education President Ginny Leiz on Tuesday.

The Westfield Education Association, which represents about 500 teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses and others, also agreed to eliminate increases in first-year teacher salary from the current school year, and  to no increases in stipends for the first year of the contract.

Members of the WEA have already ratified the new contract, which now takes effect. The board is likely to consider a new contract with the union representing secretaries on March 16.

The annual salary increases in the contract of 3.9% are below the state and county average, Leiz said.

Still, both the association and the board recognized that the savings, while helpful, may not completely remove the need to cut jobs in the coming year, depending largely on how much aid the state provides.

"It's an uncertain and difficult time and we don't know what's going to happen" with the budget, said Kim Schumacher, president of the WEA and a guidance counselor at Roosevelt Intermediate School. "We knew we needed to work together to save the district money."

The state Department of Education is expected to announce state aid figures on March 18, two days after Gov. Chris Christie unveils his budget for the coming fiscal year. Christie is anticipated to make cuts to state aid for school districts. The governor announced cuts to the remaining state aid payments for the current fiscal year, including for Westfield.

"We didn't go into these negotiations expecting to create an ironclad way of avoiding cuts," said board member Richard Solomon.


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