HOPEWELL VALLEY: Teachers’ pact to bring 8% raise over three years

By Frank Mustac, Special Writer
Teachers employed at Hopewell Valley public schools will get a 2.8 percent pay hike this year, followed by annual increases of 2.6 and 2.4 percent in the following two years.
The Board of Education on Monday approved a three-year contract with the education union.
Calculated on a compounded basis, the increase represents an 8 percent increase in salary over the three years the new contract is in effect — from the summer of 2015 to the summer of 2018.
As part of the agreement passed by unanimous vote with one abstention, changes to prescription drug co-pays for all teachers will take effect on Jan. 1, according to Lisa Wolff, the school board president.
Yet-to-be hired teachers will receive a different health insurance plan from teachers already on staff.
“It’s my opinion that this agreement that we came to, because of the process we went through, the timing, and the eventual results, the big winners were the students and the community,” Ms. Wolff said. Although the 2.8 percent salary increase for 2015-16 is the highest in Mercer County, the board president said, salary costs are counterbalanced, in part, by savings obtained through the change in the prescription plan.
While teachers currently are charged $15 and $20 in co-pays for generic and brand-name drugs, respectively, the new prescription plan charges a $30 co-pay for brand-name medications. The co-pay for generics remains at $15 under the new contract.
Under the approved agreement, a health benefits plan called Direct Access 20/30 will become the base medical plan for all new teachers hired, effective Jan. 1. The previous base plan was Direct Access 15.
Premiums paid by the school district for Direct Access 20/30 are less than Direct Access 15, “which will save the district money,” according to the board president.
The school district is providing an incentive stipend for current teachers to switch to the Direct 20/30 health care plan.
In one of their December paychecks, teachers will receive a lump sum for retroactive pay due them since July 1, 2015 — the effective starting date of the new contract.
Also negotiated as part of the agreement is a reduction in the amount of time a teacher can take on a personal leave of absence, from 24 months to 12 months.
Professional development (such as training courses) taken outside of contractual work hours and days will be paid at $26 per hour, under the contract.
Also, a provision was included in the agreement that permits the board of education to offer training to teachers on a voluntary basis outside of the regular contractual work day or work year for district-wide initiatives.
Editor’s note: This article was edited at noon on Dec. 17 with two changes made.