NISKAYUNA -- It’s up to Niskayuna teachers to decide whether to accept 1 percent raises in the coming years under a contract extension approved by the school board and awaiting ratification by the teachers union.
The school board Tuesday agreed to a tentative agreement with the Niskayuna Teachers Association, extending the current contract and promising teachers at least a 1 percent raise each year for the next four years. The contract also tweaks a handful of other provisions, including raising from five years to 10 years how long teachers need to work in the district to qualify for health coverage in retirement.
While consideration of the agreement was not included on Tuesday’s meeting agenda, which outlines issues the board plans to address as part of a meeting notice, the board met in executive session briefly at the start of the meeting to discuss collective bargaining.
After returning to a public session, the board unanimously adopted the agreement. The agreement will now go to the teachers association executive committee and then the association as a whole for final approval in the next two weeks.
“We are hoping that we are going to move forward,” Mary Eads, president of the teachers association, said after Tuesday’s meeting. “We feel positive.”
The agreement, effectively an amendment to and extension of the teachers contract that took effect in July 2015, guarantees teachers a retroactive 1 percent raise for the current school year, another 1 percent raise next year, a 1.25 percent raise the following year and a 1.1 percent raise the year after that.
The teacher raises will come on top of the salary step increases in the underlying contract, which guarantees teachers annual salary increases based on years of experience. In Niskayuna, first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree earn around $46,000 a year; after 30 years, at the high end of the salary schedule, teachers could be making as much as $100,000 under the contract.
The district’s median teacher salary of around $70,000 ranks it 17th out of 61 districts, according to an analysis of state data from last school year.
The new agreement also increases how long teachers must work in the district before receiving district health coverage in retirement, from five years to 10 years. Teachers in the district will also be required to pay for slightly more of their employee health insurance – from 20 percent to 22 percent – starting in the fourth year of the agreement.
Another change requires teachers to notify administrators by Feb. 1 if they plan to retire, which helps district officials plan for changing employee costs. If teachers provide retirement notification by Oct. 1, they earn a $1,000 bonus, under the agreement.
The tentative agreement includes language that could require teachers to come into work during the annual spring recess and would bar the use of personal time immediately before or after a holiday in an effort to extend a vacation. The deal also strikes a requirement teachers who have not joined the teachers association pay an agency fee to support its work – once widely used mandatory fees that have been rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. said he thinks the agreement is fair to both the district’s teachers and the taxpayers who fund their pay.
“The board agreed to move forward,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting.
The district has been without a new agreement since the current contract reached its end date in June – though that agreements remains in effect until a new one is adopted. Teachers on Tuesday pointed out they had gone more than 240 days without a new contract.
Throughout the school year, as negotiations were continuing, teachers turned out to school board meetings, rarely addressing the board but letting their presence be known as they filled seats at the meetings.
Collective bargaining negotiations are one of a handful of issues allowed to be discussed in closed board meetings, under the state open meetings law. (There are no requirements related to meeting agendas under that law.)
But once a board has signed off on a tentative agreement, the terms of that agreement should be open to the public, Bob Freeman, executive director of the state committee on open government, said Thursday.