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Trustees OK 7 percent teacher raise

| May 12, 2006 12:00 AM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Trustees for Libby Public Schools approved a one-year contract on Tuesday for teachers that calls for a 7-percent pay increase for 2006-07.

The school board also agreed to give its 107 teachers $50 more a month toward health insurance, which boosts the district's total contribution to $415 a month.

Teachers, who belong to Libby Education Association, voted Wednesday afternoon to accept the contract. Running from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, the contract will replace the current one-year agreement, which included a 5 percent pay raise for 2005-06.

With the new contract, a starting teacher's pay will be $25,180, up from $23,534.

We're quite pleased," said Tim Hodel, negotiation chairman for LEA. "It's a positive step in the right direction. People have been getting 4 percent (raises in recent years) and this will leave us in the middle of the pack (for pay compared to teachers from similar size schools in Montana).

Libby currently ranks the 16th lowest for pay when compared to 24 similar size school districts. The new contract will put Libby, which has 1,370 students, in 12th place.

Trustee Lee Disney, elected to the board on May 2 so he was not involved with recent negotiations, questioned the 7 percent raise.

"How do we justify it when the cost of living is 4 percent?" Disney asked.

"We want to attract good people and give them a reason to stay," Superintendent Kirby Maki responded. "I feel we can afford it."

The district will not replace 5 1/2 teachers retiring or resigning at the end of this year, Maki said.

"That's to come up with the money

needed to pay the increase," he said.

Libby has struggled filling teaching jobs, going two to three years without any applicants, Maki said.

"We've had graduates return (as student teachers), but they didn't apply (for jobs)," added Trustee Gela Rae Koehler.

Libby teachers started negotiations with a request for 10 percent pay-raise for 2006-2007.

The district offered 5 percent.

Prior to this year, Libby teachers since 1998-99 have received average annual raises of 4 percent.

The district next year will pay nearly $1 million for health insurance for its 160 employees.