July 24, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Highland teachers’ wages unfrozen

GRANGER TWP. — The Highland school board approved a new three-year contract with teachers Wednesday night that grants a 4.3 percent raise over the three years of the contract.

Teachers in the Highland Education Association have been working without a contract since July 1. The new contract includes a retroactive pay raise of 1.5 percent during the first year and a 1.4 percent raise in the years 2014 and 2015.

“Obviously, the teachers have been very quietly and diligently working without a contract throughout the negotiation process,” school board President Norm Christopher said. “I commend our teachers for that. It’s been about students first and the community.”

The previous contract included no pay raises except for step increases, and while Christopher said the board worked hard to keep district costs low, members had to reward teachers for their successes in the classroom.

He said teachers accepted a wage freeze in their last contract, which started in 2009, because of the difficult economy.

“There was a lot of uncertainty in the economy and the state was going through a vigorous review of funding,” Christopher said.

Even though the financial picture for school funding still is clouded and uncertain, Christopher said school officials have done their best to find savings where they can and stretch levy dollars to keep costs low.

“Because our district is a supportive one, it’s sometimes characterized as a wealthy district,” he said. “But we know there are many families who have been impacted by the economy and we try to keep that in mind.”

He said teachers supported a new insurance plan that widened the district’s risk pool and saved Highland money. He also said teachers have stepped up to serve and find new and creative ways to do more with less.

“We do a lot to manage costs but maintain the same level of excellence,” Christopher said. “The teachers have given up a fair amount along the way but we continue a strong track record of academic excellence.”

Melany Malquest, president of the Highland Education Association, said her nearly 200 union members thought the contract was fair and approved it with an “overwhelming” majority Wednesday night.

“We are happy to have a new contract and to be able to move forward to address all the upcoming changes in education,” she said.

In addition to the raises, the contract includes some policy modifications to address state changes in teacher evaluations.

After approving the contract, the board also approved four policy changes to be in compliance with teacher evaluation standards.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.