South-Western City Schools and the South-Western Education Association have agreed on a three-year contract that includes no base pay increase for the current school year.

South-Western City Schools and the South-Western Education Association have agreed on a three-year contract that includes no base pay increase for the current school year.

The agreement, approved by a 4-1 vote of the school board at a special meeting March 21, calls for a 0.5-percent pay hike starting July 1, and a 1-percent increase starting July 1, 2012. Step pay increases, which are based largely on longevity and education, will remain in place, superintendent Bill Wise said.

The teachers union agreed in 2009 to go without a base pay increase for a year as part of a contract extension that expired June 30, 2010. The teachers kept working under the provisions of that extension during recent contract talks.

About 80 percent of SWEA members voted in favor of the new contract, according to union president Rolla Beach.

Another significant change to the contract is the reduction of teacher health care and benefits paid by the district. SWEA employees will pay 7.5 percent of their health care and dental benefits beginning October 2011 and 10 percent beginning October 2012.

Wise said the change to benefits reflects a nationwide trend. He anticipates future district contracts with employee bargaining units to have similar provisions.

"Nationally, employees continue to share more of (those costs) on a year-to-year basis and we would see that trend continuing," he said. "Our ultimate goal is that we don't see an increase in premiums, but as those costs rise, there will be a continuing expectation that employees share in those responsibilities."

In addition, the new contract ties supplemental contract salaries to the prior school year, effectively slowing the district's increase in supplemental contract payments, Wise said.

The final major change in the new contract allows the district to reduce its number of kindergarten aides by 50 percent in the 2011-2012 school year and another 50 percent in the 2012-2013 school year. Wise said the provision is designed to give the administration greater flexibility in how it distributes its staffing.

Wise said the contract is a step toward keeping the promises the district made before the 2009 levy was passed.

"Our focus now is on continuing to look at ways to use the resources available to us in the most effective way and try to extend the commitments we've already made to the community," Wise said.

Jo Ellen Myers was the lone vote against the contract. Myers said the community didn't have enough time to give input on the contract, which was posted online on the district's website Monday before the 5 p.m. special meeting.

"The public was at work. They didn't have an opportunity to see this contract, and they're the ones paying for this contract," Myers said. "I think this is one more 'I gotcha.'"

Myers also pointed out that the district could be giving up savings by approving the contract if Senate Bill 5 passes. As proposed, the bill would drastically reduce collective bargaining for public employees.

Board member Karen Dover countered that negotiations with SWEA for this contract have been discussed in public board meetings since 2009 and said Senate Bill 5 is a gamble.

"I do not believe there will not be litigation regarding Senate Bill 5 and that there will not be a referendum initiative. Senate Bill 5 could not be in place for another year or two, if at all, is the reality of it. I have to make a decision based on what we know now," Dover said. "I'm not willing to gamble taxpayer money."

Beach attended Monday's meeting but would not comment on the new contract beyond statements in a press release.

"The members of the South-Western Education Association are making a great sacrifice in accepting this agreement," Beach said in the release. "I think there is a general sense of relief that we will have at least some internal stability in the context of the turmoil and uncertainty caused by Senate Bill 5 and the governor's budget proposal."

The district is still negotiating with the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, which represents classified workers.