Friday, November 1, 2013 • 5:16pm
SPARTA, NJ- The teachers have a contract. After nearly two years of negotiating, the Sparta Education Association and the Sparta Board of Education finalized their agreement on Halloween night.
The new contract is for three years, as is typical. The new salary increases are 2 percent for the first year, 2.4 percent in the second and 2.3 percent in the third year, for a total of 6.7 percent. The previous contract expired more than a year ago, making the first year's rate increase retroactive.
Secondary to salary, consolidation of health benefit programs was a major part of the negotiation process. This is the first year that the SEA contract is considered nearly 'wall to wall' meaning it was negotiated on behalf of the teachers, secretaries and paraprofessionals. Bus drivers, administrators and custodians will continue to negotiate separately. The custodians also settled the same night. Most of the district's bargaining units base their contracts on the outcome of the teachers' contract negotiations.
The consolidation of health benefits programs represented a savings to the district by eliminating a wide and disparate menu of offerings to the various groups of employees. "It was good for both sides," explained SEA President Susan Sawey.
This was confirmed by Business Administrator Linda Alverez. "The uniformity of insurance will certainly make Sparta more marketable to get more competitive rates."
"Other changes included some co-pay adjustments for health benefits and other minor language changes," Sawey reported.
Additionally, the appendix to the contract that determines compensation for stipend positions such as coaches and advisors was amended to more accurately reflect the programs that are being offered by the district at this time. This work began in the early stages of the previous contract negotiations process but was dropped when the budget crises became apparent.
The negotiation process dragged on for nearly 20 months. Alverez reported the initial request to begin negotiations came in Feb 2012. Mediation then began this past April. "It was a long laborious process but throughout it all everyone was professional and respectful," according to Alverez. "Each side gave a little and got a little."
While Sawey concluded, "We are pleased. This is not the best climate to be negotiating in. The vote by the members showed they overwhelmingly endorsed the contract."
This is a three year agreement, with one year having already passed. Negotiators will get a short break before having to return to the table to begin negotiating the next contract in about six months.