The Appoquinimink school board unanimously approved a new, three-year labor deal with the local teachers’ union last week – six months after the previous contract had expired.

The Appoquinimink school board unanimously approved a new, three-year labor deal with the local teachers’ union last week – six months after the previous contract had expired.

“It feels good to finally have this done,” said Vickie Caprinolo, a social studies teacher at Louis L. Redding Middle School who was elected president of the Appoquinimink Education Association (AEA) in November. “Our negotiating team worked really hard on getting a contract we could agree on and, overall, I think our membership is happy with how it turned out.”

The roughly 650 teachers and professional staff members represented by the AEA will see only slight raises under the terms of the new labor deal approved by both sides on Feb. 11.

The contract calls for no across-the-board pay increases this year. Next year, teachers can expect to see a 1-percent hike, followed by a 2-percent increase for the 2015-2016 school year.

Those raises mean an average teacher – one with a master’s degree and about 11 years of experience – can expect to see their salary increase from $62,089 this year to $62,702 in the final year of the deal.

The pay increases included in the contract are paid only on the local portion of teachers’ salaries, which covers about 30 percent of their pay. The remaining 70 percent is paid by the state and determined through the Delaware General Assembly’s annual budget process.

Local teachers will, however, continue to receive “step” pay increases as determined by years of employment and other factors.

“Obviously, our members are a little disappointed with the pay increases, particularly the zero increase this year,” Caprinolo said. “But I think we all understand what the district is going through financially.”

Voters in the Appoquinimink School District rejected a referendum last February that sought a 35-cent increase in the school tax rate, which would have raised $22.75 million in additional operating revenue over four years. That vote left the district facing a potential $2 million shortfall in its budget this year.

That gap was filled by 15-cent hike in the tax rate approved in May, but only after the school board authorized $300,000 in program cuts and agreed to shutter Townsend Elementary School and the Appoquinimink Early Childhood Center for one year as additional cost-saving measure.

While teachers will not see a sizable increase in under the new contract, Caprinolo said the union was able to protect its members from certain changes sought by the district that would have affected re-hires and teacher planning periods.

Other changes that were approved in the new contract were deemed to be mutually beneficial, according to union and district officials.

One of those changes seeks to streamline the rules for how teachers apply for open positions in the district, a lateral move referred to as the voluntary transfer process.

Another amendment seeks to fill positions that become open after the start of the school year with more existing employees instead of long-term substitutes, who previously were hired to hold a given position until the following school year.

In instances where existing employees cannot be immediately reassigned to fill those openings, language in the new collective bargaining agreement allows the district to hire certified teachers on short-term contracts instead of possibly less-qualified, long-term substitutes.

Educators hired on a temporary contract would then be paid on the teachers’ salary scale and receive benefits previously reserved only for long-term employees, although only until the end of the school year. Long-term substitutes receive a state-mandated daily rate with no benefits.

“We believe the change from long-term substitutes to teachers on short-term contracts will result in the district getting more interest for those positions from certified teachers, as well as a longer commitment than we would have had from long-term substitutes,” said district human resources director Matt Fallis.

While all of the AEA’s members were eligible to vote on the new contract, only 136 actually cast a ballot. All but 10 voted to ratify the deal.

The new contract is the second labor deal approved by the Appoquinimink school board in last three months.