The New Albany-Plain Local school board on March 31 unanimously approved a one-year agreement with the local teachers union, the Plain Local Education Association.

The New Albany-Plain Local school board on March 31 unanimously approved a one-year agreement with the local teachers union, the Plain Local Education Association.

The agreement includes no base-salary increases but still allows average step increases of 3.29 percent. Members of the PLEA who will not receive step increases will receive a 1-percent increase.

Step increases are based on education and years of experience.

The step increases will cost $1.48 million for fiscal year 2015, according to district officials.

District Treasurer Rebecca Jenkins said the contract will be for one year because the district's most recent five-year forecast estimates enough funds to cover costs associated with the contract through June 30, 2015, when the contract would expire.

She said if the district cannot reach an agreement before then, it would have to pay step increases based on the contract, and the five-year forecast says there will not be enough to cover those costs.

The most recent forecast, approved in October 2013, estimated a deficit of $3,452,216 in fiscal year 2016.

District spokesman Patrick Gallaway said the district is on a two-year levy cycle.

The most recent levy was approved Nov. 6, 2012. It was a 4.24-mill continuous operating levy and 2.59-mill bond issue to generate $45.1 million for the new school building.

The levy was anticipated to prevent a deficit in fiscal year 2015; board members at the time agreed not to ask voters for more money the next two years.

"This is part of a known financial cycle," Gallaway said via email. "We knew this two years ago when the last decision was made for a levy.

"We are fulfilling the two-year levy cycle we shared with the community two years ago, keeping the millage cycle lower as we promised. We knew we would be at the beginning of the cycle with this contract negotiation."

Gallaway said the board needs to begin reviewing its next steps.

Contract components

* The district's new contract with the union caps increases in health-care costs at 9 percent and allows for $300 in performance pay, which will be be based on factors selected by the board, with input from PLEA officials.

School board member Laura Kohler commended PLEA members for beginning the conversation about performance-based bonuses.

She said district officials have received feedback from community members, many of whom said they would rather see teachers receive performance-based bonuses instead of step increases.

"We've received feedback from the community, who want educators to experience compensation more in line with what the private sector experiences," Kohler said.

* Superintendent April Domine said the district and the union used "interest-based bargaining."

According to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service website, interest-based bargaining "may offer parties more flexibility than traditional bargaining, not locking them into predetermined issues and bargaining positions. Instead, the process begins with understanding the problem and identifying the interests that underlie each side's issues and positions."

* Domine said the contract includes a preamble about reinventing education, which is part of the district's vision.

Board member Natalie Matt asked if the district had ever included a preamble.

Domine said it has not and it "tends to be very rare."

She said the preamble was written because union and district officials felt a strong commitment to the district's mission and vision and a strong commitment to one another.

* The new contract includes an entirely new teacher-evaluation system, which implements recent changes in state law.

The approval of Ohio House Bill 555 in December 2012 requires half of a teacher's evaluation to be based on students' progress.

The other half is derived from teacher performance measured to specific standards. Building principals are required to meet with teachers and set goals, observe the teacher in class at least two times each school year and meet with the teacher to determine accomplishments.

The system uses Ohio Standards for the Teaching Profession and includes "a professional growth plan, observations, walkthroughs and conferences to determine a teacher's performance rating," according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Domine said the contract allows the evaluation system to evolve over three years, with implementation beginning this year.

The district piloted the new evaluation system this year, using 35 teachers and eight administrators who volunteered, said Marilyn Troyer, the district's chief of innovation, improvement and human capital.

* The new contract changes three personal days into sick days if a teacher chooses to roll them over into the next school year.

Jenkins said in the previous contract, teachers could keep one day as personal leave for the next school year and the rest were rolled over into sick leave.

School board President Mark Ryan said the district has not had issues with leave being abused.

He said parents who see a substitute in their classroom may assume that the teacher is on leave when the teacher may be away from the classroom attending a professional-development course.

* The contract includes new provisions for "reductions" in staffing. It says "the board shall handle all staff reductions first through normal attrition."

Limited contracted teachers and continuing contracted teachers would be reduced by "area of licensure/certification, competency as determined by a formal evaluation and when evaluations are comparable, by lowest seniority in the school district," according to the contract.

The contract retains the provision that requires the district to keep the names of teachers who were suspended for a reduction in force on a recall list for two years.

It also allows the PLEA president -- a position currently held by Mike Covey -- to have time during the school day to handle union issues, with a new provision that allows the union to "purchase additional release time" for the president, which will include the president's salary and what the district pays into the State Teachers Retirement System for the employee.