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Contract appears near for Lanesville teachers

The Lanesville Community School Corp. and its teachers will take some necessary steps this week toward reaching a new contract.
Vicki Martin, a state-appointed fact-finder with the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board, released a non-binding report last week with her recommendations for settling the school’s dispute on salary and insurance issues.
Both parties accepted the terms of the report, one of which was creating an insurance committee to look at reducing premium costs.
Supt. Dr. Phil Partenheimer said Monday the school corporation is no longer interested in joining a consortium. Instead, Lanesville will create an insurance committee along with the Lanesville Education Association in a joint effort to look at other options.
The goal of the committee is to reduce premiums without drastically reducing the benefits.
Lanesville currently pays 100 percent of the premiums for an individual health plan and 85 percent for family coverage.
The school board said last month they wanted to keep the school’s current Anthem insurance plan. The LEA had also previously been unwilling to accept terms that included a reduction in the school’s contribution of health insurance premiums. The LEA also opposed the consortium.
However, on Monday, both parties seemed ready for a compromise.
‘Both sides are giving on this in order to move closer to a new contract,’ Partenheimer said.
Partenheimer said the school corporation is willing to look at other insurance plans and even dropped plans to join the consortium, which would have saved the corporation $35,000.
Veronica Hobbs, LEA president and teacher, said to reach an agreement, the teachers are willing to pay more for their premiums. The fact-finder’s report recommends they pay five percent more.
‘I think we’ve made some great strides this week in developing a good working relationship,’ Hobbs said. ‘I have hope.’
Hobbs said the LEA was also appreciative of the support they have received from the Lanesville community.
Partenheimer said preliminary meetings could begin as early as the end of this week and members of the group would include himself, Lanesville Elementary School Principal Marsha Himmelhaver, Lanesville School Board President Donald Hussung, Hobbs and other teachers appointed to serve by the LEA.
The two parties also reached agreements on salary increases.
In the report released by the IEERB board, Martin recommended a two-percent retroactive salary increase for teachers for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years and a reduction of the school’s contribution for health insurance premiums from 100 percent to 95 percent for single premiums and from 85 percent to 80 percent for family coverage. Martin said these recommendations were made in light of the school’s financial problems.
Partenheimer said the reduction in their contributions to health insurance premiums would make it easier for the school corporation to make salary increases because each percent of increase is equivalent to $20,000.
He said it will also alleviate some of their financial trouble which he said was due to state budget cuts and enrollment.
Partenheimer said the state reduced Lanesville’s budget by $38,000 this year and enrollment had declined from 642 students to 627.
He said the school also saw an increase of $135,000 in premium costs for the entire school corporation. Partenheimer said that amount would increase next year by 15 percent.
In 2006, the school corporation paid more than $370,000 in health insurance premiums for its teachers, according to Martin’s report.
Partenheimer said despite the school’s financial problems, he is hopeful.
‘My main issue is to be as positive as possible,’ he said. ‘I see an opportunity for an agreement.’
The Indiana Education Employment Relations Board fact-finder’s report comes after a public fact-finding hearing on June 1. Previously, both parties have unsuccessfully tried mediation through the IEERB in August 2005 and again in February 2006.