Board and teachers reach pact with raises under state average, changes to healthcare, By Tom Hoffman WANTAGE n The teachers and the school board at the Sussex-Wantage Regional School District have inked a three-year contract that’s expected to save the district more than $300,000 in healthcare and other costs this year. The agreement, which the school board unanimously approved at its March 19 meeting, calls for teacher raises of 3.75 percent in the first year of the deal, 3.5 percent in year two and a 3.25 percent increase in the third and final year, according to Marina Krynicky, who is the board’s vice president. Although the agreement is backdated to July 1, 2008 and runs until June 30, 2011, retroactive pay for the teachers goes back only to Jan. 1, 2009, said Krynicky. Thanks to concessions made by the teachers’ union on back pay and healthcare coverage, the net increase of the teachers’ salaries in the first year of the contract works out to a 1.74 percent, she said. “This is one of the best contracts in the state,” said Krynicky. She claims that the average annual salary increase for public school teachers in New Jersey is 4.5 percent. According to the New Jersey School Boards Association in Trenton, the average salary increase for teachers across the state was 4.58 percent in the 2007-2008 school year. The average increase for teacher salaries is running at 4.59 percent for the current 2008-2009 school year but the organization hasn’t finished collecting data from school districts in the state, said Mike Yaple, a spokesman for the state association. Healthcare coverage The S-W teachers’ union agreed to shift from having traditional healthcare insurance coverage to a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO). Under a PPO, employees can choose between HMO-provided physicians or doctors who are out-of-network, though the former is less expensive. The PPO plan will save the school district $102,000 in healthcare costs for the 2009-2010 school year, said Krynicky. “I’ve always considered the Sussex-Wantage teachers to be the best there is,” said Krynicky. She oversaw the contract negotiations on behalf of the board after Board President Tom Card abstained from the vote because he has family who work for the district. The teachers “considered the economic circumstances in this country and they bent” on their bargaining stance, said Krynicky. A call by The Advertiser-News to Sandra Santora, President of the Sussex Wantage Education Association which represents K-8 educators at the Wantage School, the Lawrence School and the Sussex Middle School, wasn’t returned by the newspaper’s deadline. With all of the concessions made by the teachers’ union, the school district expects to save $334,000 for the 2009-2010 school year, said Christina Riker, the district’s business administrator. The vote School Board members Art Jacobs, Diane Snure, Ann Smulewicz, Kathryn Compa, Robert Heiden and Kyrnicky each voted yes on the new teachers’ contract. Board member Raymond Delbury, who was recently suspended from the board for six months following a state ethics violation, was ineligible to vote. Board member Robert Hollowach resigned from the board on March 18, citing the constraints of having to work two full-time jobs.