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Board member: Northeastern teacher contract harbinger of tax hike

Northeastern High School in Manchester, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A new contract with Northeastern School District's teachers union raised concerns for several school board members, including two who saw it as evidence that a tax increase is on the horizon.

"I look at the situation in totality," said board member K. Mike Redding, who voted against the contract on Oct. 21.

The Northeastern school board narrowly approved the agreement in a 5-4 vote.

The board recently approved a $100 million capital project for high school renovations that administrators have said will increase taxes annually over the next nine years. The district's operational costs continue to rise each year, Redding said.

More:Northeastern high school overhaul could boost taxes for years

In addition to salary increases, the district will also cover deductibles for new health savings accounts and increase its bachelor's credit reimbursements from nine credits to 12 credits under the new contract.

Redding said he fears another tax increase is coming, especially considering that the board has not yet approved contracts for administrators and superintendents, which are expected to come before the board in a couple of months.

Board member Kevin Gebhart — who also voted against the contract — agreed, adding that new hires based on growing population trends and changes in the economy or government funding could send the district scrambling to cover salary increases.

"Should the economy turn sour like it did in 2009-2010, that’s gonna cost us," he said.

Board President Margie Walker and members Constance Koerner, Vanessa Snell, Kristin Stroup and Cory Nade voted in favor of the deal with the union. 

"I’m not really comfortable talking about this on the phone," Stroup said, before hanging up on a reporter who asked a follow-up question.

Multiple attempts this past week to reach the other board members were unsuccessful. 

In addition to Redding and Gebhart, William Gingerich and Eric Hornberger voted against the contract. Neither returned calls or emails seeking comment.

More:West York district raises salaries for teachers in new contract

Both sides: Superintendent Stacey Sidle described negotiations as a "lengthy, collaborative process" that began in January and said in an email that the district is fostering positive relationships between the board and union.

The Northeastern Education Association and teachers are satisfied with the contract, said Pennsylvania State Education Association spokeswoman Lauri Lebo.

"Brick and mortar doesn’t educate our kids — it’s a well-trained, talented, professional staff," so investing in them is important, Lebo said.

Contract: Redding said that he would have preferred a flat pay increase rather than percentage steps, since the district's wages are among the highest teacher salaries in the county. 

The contract includes a 2.54% salary increase on average each year, which is not a big increase, Lebo said.

More:Northeastern OKs elementary reconfiguration

Northeastern had the fifth-highest average classroom teacher salary in the county, at $74,524, in the 2018-19 school year, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

"However, for new teachers, we’re almost last for pay," Redding said, so he would rather see the money go toward improving starting salaries.

Rather than bump up the starting salary with proportionate raises each year, there is a bigger raise between bachelor instruction levels one and two, for example, to make up for salary freezes in previous years, Gebhart said.

The starting salary for teachers with a bachelor's degree is $48,440 under the contract — which is above PSEA's recommended minimum of $45,000 and far above the statewide minimum of $18,000.

By 2023-24, the starting salary under the contract will be more than $50,000.

Teacher shortage: Lebo said Northeastern is in the middle of the pack compared with most public school districts in York County.

That being said, Lebo added, "We strongly support the school board members looking to bring up the starting salaries of our teachers.

"We know that right now there is a teacher shortage not only in York County but across the state and across the country," Lebo said.

But having incentives in salary steps could still serve to attract new teachers, and ensuring proper compensation for veteran teachers has also been an issue in some districts, she said.

It's important to retain staff because it takes a while to become an excellent teacher — "That experience is vital," Lebo said.

Redding also said the length of the contract took him by surprise and could be problematic because board members elected Nov. 5 would have no say in it during their four-year terms. Both he and Gebhart agreed an economic shift could be an issue.

The collective bargaining agreement between the district and the Northeastern Education Association is effective July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2024.