Teacher pay and insurance benefits will go up this school year with a new two-year contract between the Prior Lake Savage Education Association and Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools.

The contract, approved by the board in a 6-0 vote on Dec. 9, includes a 2% pay raise for teachers during 2019-2020 and a 2.5% raise the next year. That means the starting salary for a new teacher raises from $41,753 school year to $43,653.

Teacher pay for most co-curricular activities also raised about 2.5%, the major exceptions being for high school teachers leading music and vocal activities, who received a 20% and 33% increase in their activity pay respectively. Teachers advising these activities will be paid $6,150 a year.

The previous contract expired on June 30. That contract, which was negotiated in 2017, provided the 545 teachers represented by the union at the time a $1,725 pay raise in 2017-2018 and a 2% increase in 2018-2019.

Administrators and teachers said that the contract was born of “meaningful and difficult conversations,” in a joint statement issued by the district and teacher union Thursday.

“Overall, it is a fiscally responsible settlement while recognizing the high quality of the teachers and other educators throughout our district,” they wrote.

The district also agreed to increase its contributions to two-party and family health insurance coverage and hike up the maximum amount of life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment insurance.

Language changes in the contract’s bereavement leave policy added domestic partners to the list of family members covered by the policy. Now teachers may use leave in the case of domestic partner’s death. The list previously included spouses and engaged partners.

The union and district added several new policies for day-to-day life in area schools. A new memo on staff safety states the district will create a process for documenting student behaviors that affect staff safety, for example. The district also promised to create a subcommittee on reading interventions.

In 2018, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards in math and reading on standardized tests declined in several grades.

Several school board members said they’d felt more involved in negotiations this year than years prior. Director Mary Frantz abstained from voting on the agreement, saying she had no qualms with the negotiation process but couldn’t vote without reviewing the contract.

“I’m simply not comfortable voting on something I haven’t been able to read in total,” Frantz said. She said the document had been finalized only hours before, and her attempts to review the document before it was finalized had been shut down.

Chairwoman Lee Shimek said the timeline was no different than in years past.

“The full contract in the past has never been presented in its complete entirety to the board before we have voted. That doesn’t mean you can’t come in and view the contract when it is finally finished and signed,” Shimek said.

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