Hilliard teachers are to receive 2-percent annual cost-of-living raises and those eligible also will receive step increases as part of a new three-year contract agreed upon by the school district and the Hilliard Education Association.

Hilliard teachers are to receive 2-percent annual cost-of-living raises and those eligible also will receive step increases as part of a new three-year contract agreed upon by the school district and the Hilliard Education Association.

At a Nov. 13 meeting, Hilliard Board of Education members approved a three-year contract renewal with the HEA, the union that represents the district's 1,138 teachers.

The new contract, effective from Jan. 1, 2014, though Dec. 31, 2016, stemmed from the first full-fledged collective bargaining process between the district and the HEA since negotiations for a three-year contract that ended Dec. 31, 2010.

Since the expiration of that contract, the district and the HEA have entered into a pair of extensions, one for one year, and another for two years. The first extended a contract through Dec. 31, 2011, and included a pay freeze for HEA members; the second extended a contract through Dec. 31, 2013, in which HEA members surrendered one step increase, accepted a continued pay freeze and agreed to changes in health insurance.

The new contract restores salary increases to all teachers and maintains the schedule of step increases for qualified teachers, but also makes further changes to health insurance to allow the district to save money, said Amanda Morris, director of school community relations for Hilliard schools.

The teachers covered in the contract represent 67 percent of the district's employees, excluding administrators, transportation department employees and other personnel.

"This agreement is good for our teachers, our students and the community," board President Andy Teater said.

The contract sets a salary of $39,129 for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience, hired in 2014.

In the first year of the new contract, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and 23 years of experience, the last step, could earn $78,110 annually.

About 61 percent of the district's teachers are currently eligible for step increases, Morris said.

For the first time, under the terms of new contract, teachers are subject to employee-paid deductibles for health insurance.

Morris said any possible offers or counter-offers to achieve the negotiated 2 percent across-the-board salary increase were a confidential part of the collective bargaining process. The step increases are unchanged from the previous contract.

The new three-year contract does not provide for any merit-based salary increases, Morris said.

In 2014, a single coverage health plan has a $125 deductible and a family plan has a $250 deductible. In 2015 and 2016, the deductibles increase to $250 and $500, respectively.

Employees also for the first time will pay for health services in excess of the co-pay. That amount is 5 percent in 2014, and 10 percent in 2015 and 2016, for in-network services.

If seeking health services out of the network, the employee pays 30 percent of cost of services in excess of the co-pay.

The contact also establishes a maximum out-of-pocket expense for employees as they will pay for health care beyond office co-pay fees, Morris said. The maximum amounts increase each of the three years of the contract, topping in 2016 at $1,500 for single coverage and $3,000 for family coverage, in network, and $3,000 and $6,000 respectively, out of network.

"The insurance changes are a new reality for the HEA members (but) we believe the community recognizes that our members have been a part of the solutions (that allowed the district to make budget reductions) and are glad that we can continue to be a good value to the community," said Mary Kennedy, HEA president.

Kennedy said the HEA is "fortunate to have a relationship (with the board and superintendent) that allows for a negotiation process of teamwork and collaboration, ultimately benefitting our students."

Hilliard Superintendent John Marschhausen said the new contract will ensure that the district will be able to stretch revenue from the operating levy voters approved in 2011 into at least 2015.

Marschhausen thanked the community for its "consistent support" and said the district is cognizant that the community "expects a return on its investment."

"A great deal of time and energy was spent in committee work prior to the formal negotiation process. As we prepare our students to be 'Ready for Tomorrow,' we need to honor the quality teachers in our classrooms while respecting our community's desire for strong fiscal management," Marschhausen said.

Based on the changes only to the health and dental plan, Morris said the district will save $420,000 in the first year of the contract, $770,000 in the second year of the contract, and $820,000 in the final year of the contact.

The new contract also includes a change to the district's substance abuse policy.

According to a new provision, a teacher "whose physical characteristics ... suggest to a supervisor (the subject) may be under the influence of (alcohol or drugs); the subject may immediately be tested."

Refusal to submit to a test would lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination, Morris said.

Other terms changed in the new contract include:

* Future employees who work less than 30 hours a week will not be eligible for health or dental insurance. Current employees are grandfathered in the agreement.

* Establishment of a joint evaluation committee to develop, review and recommend the policy, procedures and processes for educator evaluations.

The evaluation committee would consider not only the Ohio Teachers Evaluation System, a new system the Ohio General Assembly approved and that is being implemented this year, but also any other evaluations of external or internal origin.