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02-25-04: Both sides approve Coldwater teachers contract with over 2% raises


COLDWATER — Negotiations are finished and both sides have ratified a new three-year contract covering the Coldwater Teachers Organization (CTO).
The contract deal comes after just four bargaining sessions with the teachers and four months before the current contract expires June 30. Three years ago, the threat of a strike loomed over the contract talks as the teachers and board of education went well past the expiration of that contract, finally reaching a deal just before school started in August 2001.
Coldwater Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Rich Seas, leading his first bargaining effort since being promoted to the top job last summer, vowed from the beginning that things would be different this time around.
“Given the need to negotiate, the CTO agreed to negotiate early, settle, and allow for the staff to focus on educating kids and the building project,” Seas said, calling the deal “fair and responsible to the staff, community and board of education.”
The new contract, approved by the board of education Tuesday night, grants teachers pay raises of 2.25 percent the first year and 2.75 percent in each of the next two years. The new deal also calls for the district’s health insurance plan to be switched to a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), with the teachers paying for 5 percent of premiums during the first two years of the contract. If the teachers’ health insurance premiums rise 10 percent or more during that time, the administration is allowed to revisit that issue before the third year. In that event, the sides would negotiate a new cost-sharing plan for health insurance.
Despite common fears, Seas said he believes a PPO will provide staff members with better managed care, which should result in more affordable insurance costs.
Also, an 80/20 prescription drug plan will replace the existing program that includes co-pays of $5 for generic drugs and $10 for brand name drugs.
Both sides used the word “trust” in describing the smooth path that negotiations followed. They also credited the joint decision to throw out past hardline bargaining techniques in favor of what school officials called a “common sense” approach to negotiating.
Dennis Riethman, a 25-year veteran teacher and CTO president, said the recently concluded bargaining session was definitely the least contentious of several he has participated in through the years.
“It couldn’t have happened that way if there weren’t the level of trust there is,” Riethman said.
Riethman was joined by Randy Wright, Mike Bruns and Ann VanDenBosch for the CTO bargaining team. Seas, Treasurer Sherry Shaffer, high school Principal Steve Keller and school board President Jerry Meyer negotiated for the board. A mediator was also used to expedite the talks.
Seas said the negotiations have been on his mind since taking over the job about eight months ago.
“Our energies can now be focused on serving our
students and completing the building project,” he said.
Also at the Tuesday night meeting, board members opened bids for the $30.5 million expansion and renovation project. Before contracts can be awarded, architects, engineers and project managers must review the multiple bid and alternate bid proposals before making recommendations to the school board. The project was bid in eight separate parts, including general contracting, roofing, kitchen equipment, fire suppression, plumbing, mechanical, electrical and technology.
District officials hope to award a contract at the March 9 regular meeting.
In other business, board members:
• Accepted the resignation of teacher Robert “Gabby” Wilker.
• Approved the eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C.
• Hired bus driver Gary Stelzer to replace Merle Hein who resigned.


Phone: (419)586-2371,   Fax: (419)586-6271
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