TRAVERSE CITY -- Educators in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District approved a new deal after 16 months of bargaining behind closed doors.

The two-year contract for the district's education association will last through next year. The association includes about 230 psychologists, occupational and physical therapists, nurses and Career-Tech Center teachers, among others.

Union employees ratified the agreement June 11, and the district's board approved it June 16.

Under contract terms, employees will receive a retroactive 2.25 percent pay increase for this past school year and a 2 percent raise next year.

They will continue to pay 10 percent on their health insurance premiums with a switch to a medical plan under the Michigan Education Special Services Association, or MESSA, that allows them to choose in- or out-of-network coverage, Superintendent Mike Hill said.

Moving to the new plan, called Choices II, will save the ISD $257,000 this coming year, Hill said.

Union members also will receive a third planned professional development day, likely to be held when classes aren't in session, association President Chris Korbel said.

The previous contract expired June 30, 2008.

Both Hill and Korbel said releasing details to the public during negotiations, as Traverse City Area Public Schools Superintendent James Feil did this month, was not considered.

Part of the reason an agreement took more than a year to reach, they said, was because of the state's uneasy financial climate and because both sides spent time researching teaching contracts within the region and among comparable ISDs.

"We were real close back in March," Korbel said. "At that time, the membership wasn't ready, and we did make some relatively minor improvements."

The intermediate district's fund balance, now at 24 percent of its combined budgets, was referenced during negotiations.

Hill said the size of the ISD's reserves is necessary because the system encompasses schools in five counties, and because it does not ask voters to approve bond issues for capital projects.

"I think that's most likely a part of many collective bargaining processes," Hill said. "It's something we continue to discuss with our board."

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