A tentative contract has been reached between the Gahanna-Jefferson Board of Education and Gahanna-Jefferson Education Association (GJEA).

A tentative contract has been reached between the Gahanna-Jefferson Board of Education and Gahanna-Jefferson Education Association (GJEA).

The deal calls for a two-year salary freeze and a freeze in step-pay increases for at least one year, as well as increases in co-pays for health insurance.

The school board and association announced the tentative agreement after a special meeting March 25.

A step freeze will be implemented for the first year of the contact if Issue 6, the district's 5.2-mill operating levy, passes May 3. However, if Issue 6 fails, the district would face an additional $7-million in cuts before the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, and the contract would end after only one year.

The GJEA, which represents 529 teachers in the Gahanna-Jefferson Public School District, is working under a one-year contract that froze salaries for the 2010-11 school year.

The proposed agreement includes teachers taking two unpaid furlough days, which would allow for additional savings that could provide the district with enough funds to reinstate up to 16 of 32 teachers who recently received reduction-in-force notices for next school year.

Jenny Palguta, GJEA president, said the proposed contract is the first time the teachers have taken a step freeze. She said the concession for unpaid furlough days is an effort to save jobs.

"All the away around, we're tying to save money," she told ThisWeek. "It's necessary for all of us. Our teachers have always been caring and hardworking, and they are demonstrating those attributes again through their work on this contract."

The teachers also have agreed to increases for their co-payments for prescription drugs and their doctor and emergency-room visits.

Under the expired plan, the teachers paid $15 for a doctor visit, $25 for urgent care and $50 for ER. Those co-pays are being increased to $25 for a doctor visit, $50 for urgent care and $100 for ER.

The prescription co-pays will be generic $10 (no change); preferred-brand prescriptions will increase from $15 to $30 and non-preferred brand will rise from $30 to $50.

Teachers will see no change to the overall employee contribution to the health insurance plan, with families paying 20 percent and individuals paying 10 percent.

Superintendent Mark White said board members were very pleased with the negotiation process and the concessions brought forth by GJEA.

"We would like to thank all the teachers, administrators and board members who participated in this negotiating process," White said. "We are especially appreciative of our teachers for taking a progressive stand in these challenging times to help our district preserve the quality of education in the Gahanna-Jefferson community."

The board has cut a total of $12-million from the district's budget in the past three years.

Passage of the 5.2-mill operating levy on May 3 would prevent an additional $7-million in cuts that would include the elimination of another 40 to 50 positions and high school busing. The levy is projected to last at least three years.

The school board is expected to formally approve the proposed contract during its April 14 regular meeting.