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Northwestern School Corporation and the teachers’ association collectively reached an agreement that school officials say is the largest settlement in school history for the teaching staff, who will see a salary increase of 6.3% on average in the first year of the contract.

The Board of School Trustees ratified the Master Agreement at the regular board meeting on Thursday, which also gives teachers a 3.4% pay raise on average in the second year and an additional 2% increase in insurance benefits.

The two collective groups have been meeting for a couple of months to discuss the priorities of the teachers and the district leadership.

Superintendent Kristen Bilkey said both groups went to the bargaining table with the common goal of providing veteran teacher catch-up pay the first year to ensure long-time teachers were being compensated at appropriate levels.

“We worked together in a transparent manner where we both knew what each other’s goals were and how much money we were working with,” she said in a release. “We have an incredible staff and our focus was on retaining them and rewarding them.”

The first year of the two-year contract moved the average teacher salary to $49,401, which is up over $2,570 from the previous year. The average salary increase in the first year of the contract is $2,955. The contract also will provide additional staffing for the district’s increased enrollment.

The second year of the contract focused on the beginning teacher salary in addition to providing increases to returning teachers. The beginning teacher salary increased from $36,000 to $40,000, or an 11% increase.

“We have to be able to compete to hire and retain the best teacher,” Bilkey said. “We want to be able to provide a package that will attract young teachers entering the field.”

The average teacher salary moved to nearly $51,000 for the 2020-21 school year. The teachers will see an average increase of $1,677.

Chief Financial Officer Jamie Bolser said the school corporation plans to distribute the contract adjustments immediately. She said the increase would start the very next pay after ratification of the contract, which is Friday.

“Not only was providing the best financial package to our teachers a priority, but also getting them the increases as quickly as possible,” she said in a release.

The school has been working on strategic budget changes that include changes in the operations fund, which would then lessen the burden to the education fund, from which teachers are paid. The district was able to save over $350,000 by increasing efficiencies and handling more transportation of students in house rather than contracting the services.

“I am proud of the efforts of both the teachers association and the district leadership to reach this agreement,” Bilkey said. “Our work is not done yet. We need to continue working with our state leaders to provide additional funding to our schools so that we can compensate our educators at the level their profession deserves.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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