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School board okays pact with teachers

A proposed two-year settlement between teachers and the Ellsworth School Board was approved by the board Monday.

The proposal features total salary package increases of $453,617 in the 2005-06 school year and $495,199 in the 2006-07 year. These amounts represent a 4.8 percent increase in the first year and a five percent increase in the second year.

The agreement also includes changes in the health benefit program. The school district will pay 97 percent of the health insurance premium during the '05-'06 year and 95 percent of the premium during the '06-'07 year.

Among other features, the proposal called for a two-tiered prescription plan of $0 and $5 in '05-'06, and will change to a three-tiered prescription plan of $5, $10 and $25 in '06-'07. It called for a $100-$300 deductible provision in '05-'06 and will change to a $250-$500 deductible in '06-'07. The aggregate coverage is $1 million in '05-'06 and will be $2 million in '06-'07.

Additionally, teachers hired after this July 1 will no longer be eligible for post-retirement health insurance. However, on a monthly basis thereafter, the district will deposit three percent of the employee's gross monthly base salary into a special account. Employees will be allowed to make additional contributions to the account to the maximum amount allowed by law. The employee's account will be fully vested upon initial employment.

Retirees who wish to maintain insurance coverages will, subject to the rules of the carrier, make the necessary payments to the board for the desired coverages.

Teachers hired on or after July 1, 1996, but before this July 1 will have the option to select either this plan or benefits.

The agreement also features a revised extracurricular schedule and seven language changes.

Superintendent Dan Kaler said the proposal was presented to the West Central Education Association group on May 31 and approved by 85 percent of its membership.

In other business Monday:

--A preliminary budget for the 2006-07 year was presented by Kaler. He emphasized the budget information is very preliminary, indicating results of a 2005-06 audit are still to come next month. The preliminary budget assumes a six percent increase in property values districtwide, he said. A decrease in the mill rate is foreseen at this point, which would be the third consecutive such decrease. The superintendent advised the board there will need to be more discussion about the budget fund containing the swimming pool debt.

--Fee increases for the 2006-07 school year were heard. They include: art, from $15 to $20; tech ed, from no charge to $7 plus the cost of the project; family and consumer education, from $15 to $20; physical education, from no charge to $15 athletic training; athletics, from $50 to $55; music, from $40 to $55; drama, from $40 to $55; and forensics, from $40 to $55. Kaler agreed to study the possibility of increasing the student parking permit fee as well.

--Curriculum Director Leona Johnson reviewed student performance results. In comparisons with other school districts in the Middle Border Conference, Ellsworth did well on the tests overall, she said. Local fourth grade math results were the highest in the conference and fourth grade science results were the second highest. The 10th grade here topped the conference in reading, math and language arts. Meantime, Ellsworth's scores were below statewide averages in only two areas: third grade math and fourth grade language arts.

--A review of the status of district goals for the 2005-06 school year by Kaler showed, although they weren't all totally accomplished, significant progress was made. The goals were: evaluation of the administrative staff; housing the maintenance department; assessing and revising the budget cutting process; expanding the role of the communications committee and increasing communications with other local units of government; and buildings, grounds and equipment maintenance five-year plan. Board members will set a date to meet about next year's goals.

--A proposed cell phone policy for students was offered by EHS Assistant Principal Barry Cain. The policy calls for students to keep their cell phones in their lockers and have them turned off. Calling and text messaging are to be prohibited during school hours. Use of cameras isn't to be allowed on school grounds.

--Personnel hires and resignations were approved by the board. Hirings include: Amy Quaschnick, school district psychologist; Alyssa Winger, family and consumer education at EHS; Karolyn Campbell, library aide at EHS; and Dayna Steger, library aide at EMS. Resignations are: Peter Vitt, English teacher at EMS; and Lamoine Baker, custodian at EMS. Additionally, a request from Casey Keller, science teacher at EMS, for a year's leave of absence was approved.