After about 15 months in the negotiation process, the parties met for several hours June 21 with a mediator from the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. The district requested mediation.

On June 28, Merton received word that the teachers, the bargaining committee and the executive council had ratified the agreement. The School Board ratified the agreement June 29.

"I think it's an average settlement. I think the board could have come up with more money in both years; I think the teachers are deserving of that," said Steve Johnson, executive director of Cedar Lake United Educators Council and negotiator for the teachers.

A teacher with a bachelor's degree starting at the district in 2004-05 had a salary of $32,650. A teacher with a master's degree plus 24 credits at the top of the pay scale had a salary of $63,077.

The 2005-07 contract eliminated steps in the salary schedule to move teachers more quickly through the schedule, increasing their pay faster. Step eliminations bring a beginning teacher's salary to $33,744 in 2005-06 and $35,223 in 2006-07.

The salary for a teacher with a master's degree, 24 credits and 12 years with the district will stay at $63,077 for 2005-06. Elimination of a step for 2006-07 brings that level to $63,708.

Merton projects total salaries at $3.21 million and health insurance at $756,000 for 2005-06, and salaries at $3.31 million and health insurance at $840,000 for 2006-07.

Health insurance changed from a point-of-service plan to the WEA Trust Select 5 plan, like many other districts in the area. The plan goes into effect Aug. 1.

"It's a lower-cost plan, talking for the employer," said Merton Schools Superintendent Mark Flynn. "For the employee, it's the same coverage."

Flynn said the cost of insurance would have gone up about 19 percent under the old plan, but with the change, the cost for health insurance went up about 11 percent.

Besides insurance changes, the contract changed eligibility for early retirement from age 50 with 12 years with the district for employees hired before July 1, 2003, and age 55 and 12 years with the district for those hired after July 1, 2003.

Under the 2005-07 contract, employees hired before July 1, 2006, are eligible for early retirement at age 55 with 12 years service to Merton. Those hired after July 1, 2006, are eligible at age 57 with 20 years service to the district.

Language governing long-term substitutes also changed. Long-term substitutes are used in situations with maternity leave, a teacher out for surgery and some other situations.

In a previous contract, a long-term substitute came off substitute teacher pay and was added to the salary schedule, received benefits and became a member of the bargaining unit at the 61st day of service to the district.

With the 2005-07 contract, for two long-term substitutes, that changes to the 121st day of service. Any additional long-term substitutes would still be added after the 61st day of service.

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