AUBURN — In a new, three-year labor contract, Auburn teachers have retained health coverage for spouses and will get 2.9 percent cost-of-living raises this year.
Including step raises, which average 1.7 percent a year for teachers with fewer than 19 years experience, the raises will cost taxpayers $593,103 in the next year, Auburn Superintendent Tom Morrill said Friday.
The contract was approved by teachers and the Auburn School Committee on Thursday night.
The contract "is a fair one," Morrill said. "We do recognize the talents and hard work of our teachers," he said. "We want to make sure we have a wage that will attract and attain good-quality teachers."
Teachers with spouses on the city's health care will have to pay more. They now pay 10 percent of their premiums, and will pay 20 percent, with taxpayers paying the remaining 80 percent. That rate is for teachers' spouses who have no other health coverage option.
Teachers with spouses who do have access to coverage from their employer will have to pay 30 percent of the premium, with taxpayers paying the remaining 70 percent.
Teachers who only need insurance for themselves will pay nothing for premiums; taxpayers will pay 100 percent. Those teachers used to pay for 5 percent.
Teachers with children will spend the same for health coverage, 7 percent, with taxpayers paying 93 percent.
Some teachers, especially those who don't need coverage for spouses, are making out well and will see more in their paychecks, while others will see their income flat after having to pay more for health care, said the teachers union president.
Reaction of membership about paying more for spouse coverage "is it's a bitter pill to swallow," said Timothy Wegmann. "It has harmed a number of people. In these tough economic times it's keeping people where they are (financially), regardless of the economic package that came through."
Having to pay more for spouses "is a bad precedent," Wegmann added. He worries it will be a model for other school systems to follow at a time when there's a national movement to cover all.
Wegmann said he's received e-mails from teachers, and one wrote that her husband is sick and needs kidney transplants, and now she'll have to pay more for health care.
For teachers like himself, who have a spouse and children on the city's health plan, what he pays in each paycheck will go up. "My wife can't get insurance," Wegmann said. "I'm going up bi-weekly from $72.55 to $150. It's doubling."
In their vote to approve the contract, teachers approved it by an overwhelming 91 percent. The margin "was not an overall approval of the what's in the contract, but more of an adjustment to the times and economic conditions," Wegmann said.
Morrill said that after two years of negotiations, "there was a compelling sense of moving forward" in a background of deteriorating economy.
When negotiations began in September of 2007, few imagined there would be such a change in the economy, Morrill said. As state tax incomes continue to underperform projections, Maine school districts face significant cuts. "The challenge ahead of us is steep," Morrill said.
Despite the economy, teachers will get bigger paychecks this year and after. In addition to next year's 2.9 percent cost of living hike, they will receive an additional 1.5 percent during each of the following two years. Teachers went without a cost-of-living raise last year, Morrill said.
Auburn teachers' salaries range from $30,000 for a beginning teacher to $54,101 for a teacher with a master's degree and 19 years or more experience.
The pay raises will take effect immediately. The changes in health premiums will begin in January. The school department is hoping to eventually save taxpayer money in health care, something they said they cannot control. They're hoping to save $90,000 the first year, "but we're really cautious about that savings until we see the final figure," Morrill said.