West Jeff Schools ratifies teachers’ union contract

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(Posted Dec. 15, 2020)

By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

Jefferson Local Schools ratified a one-year contract on Dec. 14 with its teachers’ union with no increase in the base pay index, but a jump in health insurance costs and a change in the weekly schedule at Norwood Elementary.

The former one-year agreement expired in July. Superintendent William Mullett said the contract was limited to a one-year agreement primarily for financial reasons and the continued uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both sides met for the first time in-person approximately two weeks ago.

“There’s really not much change,” Mullett said. “Teachers got a step increase, but the base increase was zero. However, they will get the benefit of a bump in pay if they have a step increase (based on years in service, increases in professional academic level).”

According to Mullett, the district has not had an increase in health care premiums for 10 years and the board was paying 93 percent of the monthly cost for the insurance.
With board approval, the cost for a family plan jumps from $140 a month to $210. The cost for a single plan goes from $70 to $100.

“That’s untenable long-term,” said Mullett, who said while the increases are necessary, they are not going to fix the problem overnight. “The issue with health care is that it’s gone crazy.

“This was a start. We hope to be able to get to the point where the board pays 80 percent and teachers pay 20 percent. That’s pretty much the standard with school districts.”

Another part of the new contract includes once-a-week early release at Norwood on Wednesdays after lunch, starting in January.

Norwood is on an all-day in-school model because of the ability to socially distance classrooms. However, due to quarantines and isolations, more children are forced to engage in remote learning, resulting in more demand on teachers.

“When we began all-day, we selected one teacher for remote learning,” reported Mullett, “but more and more kids have to be isolated. Most of our teachers are now doing both in-class and remote, and that’s a lot more work for our elementary teachers.

“We’re making the change to early release one day a week to help those teachers. Nothing changes at the high school and middle school, though.”

Mullett said he will make a formal announcement after the Christmas holiday about the early release schedule at Norwood Elementary and what school will look like when students return on Jan. 5.

“The caveat is it is all up to what our (county) health commissioner does,” Mullett said.

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