Missoula's teachers approved a contract late Friday afternoon negotiated while most were on summer break, one that gives no increase in their base pay.

The Missoula Education Association certified the new contract after counting ballots at MEA headquarters.

With 75 percent of teachers voting, the result was about 80 percent in favor of passage, said MEA president Melanie Charlson.

But the 20 percent who voted against the new contract is the highest percentage since the 1980s, she said.

"I think we're coming off a minimal increase from the year prior, and that's hard," Charlson said.

Last year, teachers accepted a one-half of 1 percent increase in pay. This year, it's zero.

Yet Charlson said she more or less expected the contract to pass.

"A lot of time has passed (since the contract was written) and it's been a lot of time for people to ask questions, and that's good," she said. "That's a long time to make an informed vote."

The agreement outlines a one-year contract that began on July 1. Besides "steps and lanes" increases based on education and years of experience, there is no increase in the base pay for teachers and other certified staff in MCPS. But the contract has the district contributing an extra $25 a month toward the health insurance premium for each employee - from $600 to $625.

The entire pay matrix is a spreadsheet that outlines 184 salaries, ranging from $31,879 to $66,501.

However, the teachers have also had to shoulder large increases in their insurance premiums over the last several years.

MCPS administrators had warned that it would be a difficult negotiating year. The loss of federal stimulus dollars and only slight increases in state funding didn't leave any wiggle room for a pay raise outside of cutting district programs - which would have cost teacher jobs.

Most other districts in the state offered very little, if any, increases in the base salary of teachers for the coming year as the economy struggles to recover.

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