Missoula's teachers are getting "the most modest increase I've negotiated in 10 years" of forging contracts with the Missoula Education Association.

So came the word late Monday from Larry Johnson, director of human resources and labor relations for Missoula County Public Schools.

Late in the afternoon, negotiators for the teachers' union and MCPS tentatively agreed to a one-year contract that increases the base salary of teachers by one-half of 1 percent.

The district also agreed to kick in $50 extra per teacher per month to offset increases in health insurance premiums - the first increases Missoula teachers have seen in at least 10 years.

What the deal means - if it's ratified by union members - is that there will be little, if any, real increase in take-home pay for Missoula teachers during the 2010-2011 school year.

In fact, "there could be some people who have full family health care coverage who will be making a little less," said Missoula Education Association president Dave Severson.

Yet Severson said he was pleased to have a deal ready for a vote, and believes teachers will agree - especially in tough economic times.

"We are cognizant of the fact that this is a difficult time economically," he said.

***

Teachers have paid roughly the same contribution to their health care premiums for at least 10 years, said Johnson. But that changed this year. Premiums bumped up significantly. The district is paying more, and teachers will be paying up to $120 more per month.

So the district agreed to ease the pain a bit by contributing $50 more per month per employee, making a $120 increase only $70.

That helps, said Severson. But in reality, it means an $840 pay decrease, which the half-percent base salary increase won't cover in many cases.

The contract does not affect the district's 400 classified employees. The Merged Missoula Classified Employees Union enters another round of negotiations with the district on Wednesday.

Superintendent Alex Apostle was also happy to have a deal struck so early. Union negotiations sometimes run far past the July 1 deadline.

"We feel that this represents the best possible scenario for our teachers, given the existing budget initiative," Apostle said.

The teachers union will vote on the contract in the next two weeks. If approved, the MCPS school board will vote on it in early June.

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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