Members of Columbus schools' largest union will be eligible to receive health benefits for their domestic partners under a new contract approved by the school board last week.

Members of Columbus schools' largest union will be eligible to receive health benefits for their domestic partners under a new contract approved by the school board last week.

At its June 16 meeting, the board unanimously approved the contract to cheers from many in the audience.

Before the vote, school board candidate Mike Wiles spoke against the contract, questioning both the extending of health benefits to same-sex partners and raises for teachers.

"To stipulate or single out one certain group is unenforceable and ripe for an attorney with too much time on his hands," Wiles said. "Plus, we can't afford to expose the district to an unknown expense."

Stephen Miller, a teacher at Briggs High School, also expressed concerns with the contract.

He said he was in favor of a majority of the issues in the contract but wanted the board to reject health benefits for domestic partners.

Miller said he believed health insurance premiums would rise drastically.

"To help pay for these extra benefits, we have thrown all the new teachers and all future potential teachers under the bus," Miller said. "The teachers that make the least amount of money will have to pay the most for his or her benefits."

Among the changes in the contract with the Columbus Education Association is a reduction in district funding of health care premiums for new employees and those who add domestic partners. The district will cover 70 percent of premiums for new employees and those with domestic partners, while a majority of other union members will receive 90-percent coverage.

Kim Norris, a spokeswoman for the district, said about 50 people are expected to take advantage of the new same-sex benefits.

In addition to the new health benefits package, the two-year contract approved a 1.75-percent pay raise for next school year and a 2-percent raise for the following year.

Teachers also will receive "step increases," or pay increases based on longevity. Greg Scott, the chief contract negotiator for the district, said the step increases would be between 0 and 5 percent annually.

The CEA represents about 4,100 personnel, including teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, tutors, nurses, librarians, social workers and therapists.

At a meeting held earlier this month, 89 percent of the 1,219 union members in attendance voted to approve the contract.

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