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Coal City school district, union reach agreement

COAL CITY – Coal City’s school board reached a four-year collective bargaining agreement with its union, the Coal City Community Unit Education Association.

The Coal City Community Unit School District 1 Board approved, 5-0, the agreement Wednesday night. Ken Miller abstained and Jeff Emerson was absent.

Miller’s wife is a part-time teacher in the district, meaning he would face a conflict of interest on the teacher contract vote.

“I think it’s mutually beneficial, which is a good outcome when in negotiations,” Superintendent Kent Bugg said.

The current contract was set to expire Aug. 13, the day students return to school. Bugg said the goal was to come to an agreement before the start of school.

Jane Swinney, union president for the Coal City Community Unit Education Association, said she thinks it’s the best deal the teachers could get in this economy. The teachers’ union approved the contract as well.

The board entered collective bargaining knowing it needed to change the current health insurance plan to stay fiscally stable.

With the current health plan, the district was spending about $2.5 million per year, with projected increases annually of at least 10 percent. The board believed that increase of about $250,000 a year was not sustainable.

As a result of the collective bargaining process, the district will offer its employees a high deductible health plan with a health savings account option. The new plan contains a single deductible of $1,250 and a family deductible of $2,500. The coverage will remain the same.

Bugg said employees will have the option of contributing to their health savings account on a pretax basis to help offset higher deductible costs.

The change will save the district nearly $500,000 annually, as well as a 3 to 5 percent increase annually, versus the 10 percent projected with the old plan.

To facilitate the change in health insurance, the board agreed to provide the union with an additional first-year salary increase equal to the amount the board saved in union member insurance costs.

Of the $480,000 the district saved, the union membership accounted for about $300,000 of that savings. The board has agreed to move that expenditure from benefits to base salary in the first year of the agreement. This increase represents a 3.4 percent increase to the base in fiscal 2015.

The contract provides other additional increases to the base salary. In 2015, teachers will see an additional 2.6 percent raise and one percent in 2016. In 2017, they will see a 2.1 percent increase and in 2018 a 2.2 percent increase.

Swinney said she is excited about the addition of a sick leave bank, something the union has put on the table several times before and was denied.

With the sick leave bank, employees who participate will put two days worth of sick leave into a pool, with further contributions later. If someone has a catastrophic illness, they can use days from the pool once their sick days run out.

“We’ve been trying to get this into the contract for some time,” Swinney said, “We’ve had teachers who had cancer or were sick and other teachers called to ask if they could donate their sick days and it wasn’t allowed. Now there will be a pool of sick days to use.”

She said the sick day bank will be governed by the association, not the district.

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