St. Paul teachers ratify contract

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St. Paul public school teachers ratified a two-year contract Dec. 15 that provides pay raises of at least 5 percent, expands family leave, and offsets about two-thirds of increased health-insurance costs.

The contract covers 3,600 teachers, librarians, school nurses, social workers and other employees represented by St. Paul Federation of Teachers Local 28.

All employees will receive a 3 percent pay raise retroactive to the end of August, then an additional 2 percent raise next school year, said Local 28 business agent Robert “Gundy” Gunderson. Teachers received no pay raises in the 2004-’05 school year.

In addition to the across-the-board pay raises, employees at the top of their scales will receive an additional 1.5 percent over the course of the contract, Gunderson said. That affects more than half the local’s members, bringing the average pay increase to 5.75 percent.

Uphill battle with health insurance
The new contract also shifts more of the school district’s contribution for health insurance toward family coverage, he said, though it’s not enough to cover overall increases in premiums, which are approaching $1,200 a month. “Rates for family coverage are so out of control that whatever we do is just stopgap stuff,” Gunderson said.

The school district will kick in $105 more a month beginning in January for family and one-plus-one coverage, bringing its total share to more than $700 in the contract’s cafeteria plan, he said. That contribution will increase by $60 more in 2007; in both years, however, the additional contribution will cover only about two-thirds of the anticipated increases in family premiums, Gunderson said.

This district also will increase its contribution for individual coverage by $40 each year, which is expected to be enough to continue providing 100 percent employer-paid coverage, Gunderson said.

Other highlights of the contract:

• The number of sick days allowed to care for an ill family member increases from 5 to 15 per year. “It shows the district has a heart,” Gunderson said.

• The number of sick days allowed after an adoption increases from 15 to 30 days. In addition, new fathers now can have up to 30 days’ paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

• Staff members with clinical licenses, such as nurse practitioners, social workers and speech therapists, will receive the same additional benefits the contract provides to teachers who have national board certification.

“The rigor is comparable,” Gunderson said. “This clearly recognizes that these folks are all highly qualified. Now all these folks are being treated the same.” The provision, which includes a $2,000 annual stipend, covers about 60 employees, he said.

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