The Manhattan-Ogden school district increased teacher compensation 3.52% to cover higher health insurance costs for the 2020-21 school year, but teachers won't see cost-of-living raises, according to an agreement ratified Friday morning.

Health insurance rates for the district increased by about a quarter. The district will pay the increases in health insurance rates rather than passing that onto the teachers, said Erin Meyer-Gambrel, president of the Manhattan-Ogden chapter of the National Education Association and a teacher at Bergman Elementary. 

“What teachers are having is their base health insurance of the single (option plan) still fully covered by the district,” she said. “That has been the fact every single year, but our health insurance unfortunately as a district has increased over $120 per month.”

The district will pay up to $414.20 per month for a base individual plan. The district will not pay that amount to a teacher in lieu of coverage. 

Teachers will still receive their scheduled pay increases on the salary scale. The base starting salary for a USD 383 teacher will remain at $41,000.

“If you are not able to move in that salary column, you’re not getting any sort of an increase this year,” she said. “If you didn’t take professional development or college hours or complete a degree to move over to a new column … then you (are) not be able to move.”

Assistant superintendent Eric Reid said he considers the inclusion of the labor management committee in the agreement one of the highlights.

“That’s the group that worked through the COVID situation,” he said. “When what we need to do conflicts with the contract, we got a group to work through that. I think that was pretty important step for us all.”

The committee formed in the spring after Gov. Laura Kelly closed all in-person classes at schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gambrel said officials knew it was necessary to have a group to represent all parts of the district.

“We needed to involve administrators at all levels, special education, teaching and learning, facilities, superintendent, but we also needed to have teachers from every level in the district,” she said.

Having the committee included in the agreement gives an official outlet for addressing questions and concerns, which change daily, Gambrel said.

“It is a wonderful committee that has been established to just have open communication but also at the same time address concerns in a positive manner,” she said.

Another COVID-related addition to the agreement addresses sick time. If licensed professionals use all accumulated sick leave during the 2020-21 school year, they can have three additional sick leave days if needed.

“The health department has said if you have a fever here in Riley County, and if you are a student, if you are a faculty member, whoever, you many not return to work until you are 72 hours fever free,” Gambrel said. “We have covered three additional sick days if faculty is in need of it.”

Gambrel and Reid agreed that this year’s negotiations went well despite the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

“I think the process is extremely amicable, everyone is very friendly,” Gambrel said. “It is a working relationship that is exceptionally positive. Not all districts are as blessed as we are here in Manhattan to have an open communication with administration and the board and the association.”