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West York Area School District on Tuesday approved a three-year collective bargaining agreement with its teachers union — its earliest settlement in years.

The major focus of the contract was on attraction and retention of teachers, as salaries had not been competitive with the rest of the county, said board President Todd Gettys.

In the 2019-20 school year, the average teacher salary in West York was $64,800 —which also put it behind the statewide average of $67,398, according to a 2019 report from Business Insider, using data from 2017-18, the most recent available.

"This is my 'mea culpa' to you guys," said board Treasurer George Margetas, addressing the union, noting that there is still work to do, but fixing the money issue was first priority for the board. 

Mercedes Myers and Lisa Konopinski, co-presidents of the West York Education Association — representing 230 teachers and educators — announced that the union had ratified its side of the contract earlier in the afternoon on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

"We feel like we're all on a step toward making West York more what we want it to be," Konopinski said, addressing the board.

The district was seeing "its fair share" of young teachers, who would be the low end of the pay scale throughout the county, leaving for more competitive rates, Myers said. This agreement will help with retention and attracting new teachers, officials said. 

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Under the contract, the district will pay about $17.2 million in salaries to its teachers in the 2020-21 school year — an increase of $637,782 over this year. Salaries will increase more than 3% each year, with that increase reduced 0.10% after the first year and 0.15% after the second year. 

The district will pay about $2 million in increases over the three-year period. Health savings accounts will be funded 80% for new employees — a 5% increase over the current contract — and 100% for returning employees. 

That 80% amounts to $361,760 for the district, which covers the 207 teachers who have health insurance through the district.

The board approved the agreement unanimously Tuesday in an 8-0 roll call vote. Board member David Strine — who's resignation was also approved Tuesday — was absent.

The contract is effective July 1 through June 30, 2023.

This year's process marked a deliberate change in culture and procedure from previous negotiations, which were protracted — the last two spanning more than a year, Gettys said.

After Superintendent Todd Davies took over in December 2017, there was an effort to be more transparent, part of which included opening up previously closed committee meetings to teachers and the public, he said.

"The fact that we did an early bird (contract), I think that spoke to, really, the change in our culture of the district," Myers said.

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These regular communications between staff and district officials were helpful in ensuring a shorter negotiations process this go-round — which began in late August —and Myers noted there were no big surprises from either side.

"There's no 'I gotchas' in there," Gettys said. "I’m glad we can enter this as partners rather than former adversaries."

Myers said there were little things that the union compromised on in exchange for better salaries and benefits, but the major one was a shorter lunch — down 10 minutes to a 30-minute period, which is the typical time frame countywide.

"It was a significant loss in time," Myers said, considering lunch is a time teachers rely on to get things done, in addition to responsibilities such as walking students to the cafeteria.

Under the contract, co-curricular stipends — which the union also hopes to increase to stay competitive — will be negotiated this year, and there are opportunities to restructure positions as student needs change.

Looking ahead, the next step will be researching more competitive health care options and incentives such as a pay raise for teachers reaching 45 or 60 credits in their masters' studies, she said.

"Research supports that the quality of the teacher in the classroom definitely is the No. 1 factor for student achievement, so it’s about time that we invest in our teachers," said board Vice President Jeanne Herman.

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