AMITY >> After two years of negotiations, a four-year agreement between the school district and teachers union that includes a two-year wage freeze has been reached with the help of a third-party.

In a press release announcing the agreement, the district announced the school board and the Daniel Boone Area Education Association had both agreed to contract terms recommended by a “fact-finder.”

The 15-page report issued Oct. 31 by William W. Lowe was “overwhelmingly approved” by the 246 members of the union, president Amy Hicks told Digital First Media Wednesday.

In addition to a two-year wage freeze — which essentially encompasses the two years negotiations have been ongoing — Lowe recommended that a $500 raise be added to the salary schedule in year three of the contract — the 2017-2018 school year.

In the fourth year — 2018-2019 — all teachers except those at top of scale receive raises by progressing up the steps of the salary schedule, but no money is added to those steps.

According to the fact-finder’s report the top salary in the teacher salary schedule will be $96,986 for the current school year, for a top-of-scale teacher with a masters degree. The lowest salary will be $47,893 for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in the first year of employment.

But in the two years that follow, the take-home for the top salary actually drops in the final year because the teachers’ contribution to health care costs jumps to 15.5 percent and for those at the top of scale, there is no further increase in the salary schedule to cover that increased cost, said Hicks.

Under the expired contract, which expired on Aug. 31, 2015 and under which the teachers have been working until now, teachers pay 12 percent of the single health care plan offered by the district.

Under the recommendation accepted by both sides, that payment would increase to 13.5 percent in the coming school year, and to 15.5 percent in the year after that.

In fact the salary recommendations are not terribly different from those sought by the district, which called for wage freezes in the first two years, a $500 stipend in the third year that would not count toward retirement calculations or remain in the pay scale in year four, and the elimination the salary benefit for earning a masters degree.

“This contract was never about money,” Hicks said.

More “catastrophic” of the district’s proposals, Hicks said, were the district’s call for an hour’s increase in the work day and an extra week to the work year, all with no increase in pay.

“The district also wanted unilateral control of health insurance without any input from the teachers and they wanted to eliminate assault leave, for when a teacher is assaulted in school — all deplorable things,” said Hicks. “Those changes would have been catastrophic and degraded what it means to be a teacher in Daniel Boone and we told them those were non-starters from the beginning.”

The teachers agreed to the report’s terms because the district’s “deplorable” proposals were eliminated and “the raises we obtained in the previous contract were quite high, and we thought this compromise is fair to the community,” Hicks said.

Lowe confirmed that in previous negotiations, wage increases in the vicinity of 3- to 4-percent were common.

Currently, wages comprise about one-half of the district’s total budget, he wrote.

In his report, Lowe also wrote that the district argued it is in tough financial shape partly due to the money borrowed to pay for its “new state-of-the-art middle school,” constructed to accommodate an increased student population that dropped instead.

“When the student population cratered in 2010, the district was left with far too much capacity and too much expense to continue at its prior funding levels,” Lowe wrote.

The contract becomes officially final “once the final details are ironed out in the paperwork,” said Superintendent James Harris, who provided the fact-finders report to Digital First Media. “This agreement lets us get back to the business of what we do, educating children.”

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