LAPORTE - In a split vote, the Sullivan County School Board this week approved a new contract with the district's teachers which increases spending on salaries by more than 9 percent over the next four years.

The contract, which was ratified by the teachers on July 10, covers the four-year period from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2018.

During the first year of the contract, the school district will spend an additional 2.5 percent on salaries, with the extra money being distributed as raises for the teachers, said Doug Lindner, the business manager for the school district.

Spending on salaries will increase 2.25 percent during each of the last three years of the contract, with the additional spending also being distributed as raises for the teachers, he said.

However, the increased spending on salaries is offset to an extent by the fact that teachers will have to pay more for their health insurance, he said.

During the past school year, teachers paid a portion of their health insurance premiums that was equivalent to 1.5 percent of their salaries, he said.

During the first year of the new contract, their contribution to their health insurance premiums will increase to 2 percent of their salary, he said. The contribution toward their health insurance premiums will continue to rise over the life of the contract until, during the final year, it will be 3.5 percent of their salary, Lindner said.

The contribution that a teacher makes toward his or her health insurance premiums does not depend on whether he or she has family members who receive health insurance through the school district, he said.

The district's previous contract, which was in effect for three years, ended on June 30, 2014.

Following the school board's vote on Tuesday, the new contract went into effect, Lindner said.

Superintendent of schools Craig Skaluba called the contract "a win-win for both sides."

Alice Carpenter, president of the Sullivan County Education Association, said: "I appreciate the effort of both sides to come to an agreement amicably, and avoid some of the pitfalls" that some other school districts in the area have experienced.

Voting for the contract were James Lambert, Darwin Hatch, Molly Kinsey, Kimberly Phillips, Rebecca Ferguson and J. Wilson Ferguson.

Voting against the contract were Tim Nitczinski and Virginia Miller.

In an interview after the meeting, Nitczinski said teachers in the Sullivan County School District are already paid sufficiently, compared to teachers in surrounding school districts.

Nitczinski noted that the Sullivan County School District, which has 600 students, has an annual budget of over $13 million, whereas the Benton Area School District, which has approximately 50 more students that the Sullivan County School District has, has an annual budget that is less than $11 million.

"A lot of our taxpayers live on a limited income," Nitczinski said, adding that they have to pay the higher taxes that the salary increases are causing.

Nitczinski noted that there was a tax increase implemented this summer to address a shortfall in the Sullivan County School District's Fiscal Year 2014-15 budget, which was caused in part by the raises that teachers will be getting under their new contract. He said he did not vote for the tax increase.

Nitczinski also said that several other school districts in the area have implemented freezes in teachers' salaries in the past. By contrast, the Sullivan County School District has never frozen teachers' salaries, he said.

Miller declined to provide a comment to The Review on her vote.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.