By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The Quincy School Board voted 6-1 Friday morning to approve a three-year contract with the Quincy Federation of Teachers. The vote came two days after the teachers union ratified the agreement.
School Board member Melvin "Bud" Niekamp cast the only vote against the contract. He said he felt the district was giving teachers too much.
School Board member and lead negotiator Scott Stone said teachers will get pay increases of a little more than 2 percent annually for three years. He said this will consist of 1 percent straight raises each year, along with annual pay bumps of 1 percent for each "step" on the pay scale based on a teacher's experience.
Pay increases will be retroactive to the July 1 start of the current fiscal year.
Stone said the contract also calls for freezing employee health insurance premiums at current rates for the next three years. This was a major negotiating point for teachers, who wanted stability in insurance premiums because the board voted Monday to abolish its self-insurance fund and contract for services with Blue Cross/Blue Shield for employee health insurance — a move supported by the QFT during the bargaining process. The contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield will go into effect Oct. 1, the same day the district's current self-insurance plan year expires.
Stone says even if health care costs increase after the first contractual year with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, premiums for employees will stay the same in accordance with the new teacher contract. He said the district would absorb any increase.
The contract also eliminates pre-retirement raises for employees. Teachers previously received 6 percent raises for up to three years before retirement. Stone said eliminating pre-retirement raises was a major negotiating point for board members, who wanted to end this benefit because it was contributing to the pension crisis facing the state of Illinois.
Stone and School Board President Stephanie Erwin called the new contract a "win-win" for the district and school employees.
A tentative agreement on the new contract was reached Sept. 12. Members of the QFT heard details about the proposal during a closed-door session Monday. Teachers and paraeducators submitted their votes Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with results announced to the union membership in a mass e-mail Wednesday evening. QFT President Valarie Bordenkircher said the contract was approved by a "large majority" of teachers.
The School Board met at 8 a.m. Friday at the Board of Education headquarters, 1416 Maine, and immediately went into executive session to talk about the contract. The board reconvened from the closed session about 40 minutes later to vote on the contract.
Stone said the decision to move to a new health insurance plan with Blue Cross/Blue Shield was a key element in the teacher contract negotiations, and it also will have a bearing on talks with three other bargaining unions still hammering out contracts with the School Board. These involve food service workers, transportation department employees and maintenance workers.
Costs for the new insurance plan are estimated at $7.7 million, and the self-insurance program last year cost about $8.2 million, according to Joel Murphy, the district's business manager. Murphy said by the time the district pays off all remaining claims and outstanding fees, there will be no money remaining in the self-insurance fund.
The previous two-year teachers contract expired Aug. 9. However, teachers reported for work on schedule Aug. 19, and negotiations continued without any threat of a work stoppage.
Contract talks didn't start until the 2012-13 school year ended. Only six negotiating sessions were needed. A federal mediator was involved in the final session Sept. 12 when the tentative agreement was reached.