The Solon Board of Education and the Solon Education Association have come to terms on a new deal to renegotiate the final year of the current three-year labor contract and also agreed on a new three-year deal through 2017.
Solon Schools officials say the deal is a win for teachers, administration and taxpayers.
The agreement, approved Monday by the school board, provides teaching staff with raises in three of the next four years, and one year of pay freezes. Both sides of the deal had committed to one more year of pay freezes.
At the same time, employees will pay more for health coverage, a major cost savings for the school district.
The deal also results in a five-year financial forecast for the district without the need for a tax levy.
"This may be the most important contract I have negotiated during my time in Solon," said Superintendent Joe Regano. "This agreement is the right direction for our district as it recognizes the outstanding academic performance of the Solon Schools and the role our teaching staff has played in our students’ high achievement. Solon remains among the state’s highest performing districts. We provided outstanding results and these employees are vital to our overall educational program and our academic success.
"The renegotiation of the final year of the current contract and the new three-year agreement is reasonable and fair," Regano added. "It validates the cooperation of our staff in the negotiation of the last agreement and leverages the savings and reductions through reorganization the district has realized. With this agreement in place, the Five-Year Forecast continues to show no need for a levy."
School officials say it is important to remember that the change achieved in the contract expiring in the 2013-14 school year reducing the salary scale for new employees by 6.5 percent remains in effect.
At least 100 staff members will have retired or will be retiring over the six years of these two contract agreements and all teaching staff members hired in their place are working at the new, reduced salary scale.
"Even with this new agreement, our instructional costs per pupil remain lower than many of our surrounding and comparative districts," Regano said.
Over the course of the current contract, the district continued to control costs through reducing positions due to enrollment declines and prudent reorganization for efficiency, Regano said.
Teacher Salaries Increasing
Under the agreement ratified by the Solon Education Association and approved by the Board, teachers will receive a 2 percent salary increase in 2013-14 along with limited step increases.
The 2013-14 school year was to be the final year of a previously negotiated three-year total freeze in salaries and step increases. That pay freeze will now be pushed into 2014-15, the first year of the new three-year contract.
The 2015-16 and 2016-17 contract years each call for 2.5 percent salary increases plus limited steps in each of those two years.
The increases average to 1.17 percent annually over fiscal years 2011-2017.
Employee Health Costs Increasing
The new agreement also continues the district’s control and reduction in employee benefit costs by raising the amount staff will pay toward their medical insurance premiums, from 13.58 percent currently to 14 percent in 2014-15 and then to 15 percent in the 2015-16 contract year.
Other key benefit cost savings approved in the current contract remain, including higher co-pays and deductibles, limits on spousal coverage, and reduced choices.
Supplemental Contract Changes
More importantly, the new contract also stipulates that specials teachers hired for the 2013-14 school year and beyond in art, music, physical education and media will no longer receive supplemental contracts for additional duties within their teaching areas.
For example, the contract for a new physical education teacher who will also coach a sports team will receive a contract for teaching and coaching all within the teaching contract amount. This provision is part of a 10-year transition toward salary differentiation that will result in significant savings to the public.
"This new contract represents the middle three years of a 10-year process toward differentiation in salaries among teachers in Solon," Regano said. "The district’s new non-core teachers in art, music, media and physical education will no longer receive supplemental contracts within their teaching areas. This is a breakthrough in that necessary change."
Administrators Affected Too
All of the district’s administrators, who have not received pay increases or step increases for the past three years, will also be subject to the terms of these agreements, including the total pay freeze in the 2014-15 school year.
Attracting, Retaining Best Teachers the Goal
Regano added that the new contract is critical to attracting and retaining staff. The Solon Schools’ Strategic Plan calls for the district to always hire the best candidate. In order to do so and to keep those high-quality staff members here in Solon, the district needs to remain competitive with other high-performing districts, he said.
"We noticed a slight crack in our ability to hire and keep the highest level staff members we need in the classroom," Mr. Regano said. "We have had potential candidates turn down positions here as well as teachers on our staff move on from Solon to positions in neighboring districts. We must be able to attract the best educators available and not lose them to other K-12 districts in the area that pay more or to positions at colleges and universities on the basis of salary alone."