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Port Washington teachers agree to forgo raise

Amid widespread anxiety over potential job losses, a second Long Island teachers' union has agreed to forgo a contractual raise for a year.

Port Washington school authorities and teacher leaders announced Wednesday that the 500-member union would take a zero percent raise for the current year. In exchange, the district has promised that jobs will be eliminated only through retirements and resignations - avoiding a threat of layoffs that has rocked other communities.

Christine Vasilev, president of the Port Washington Teachers Association, said Wednesday her union voted overwhelmingly for its new five-year contract "in the face of threats of layoffs in other districts.

"We're taxpayers, too," she said. "We realize the times are difficult."

Geoffrey Gordon, the district's superintendent, described the agreement as a "win-win contract."

The last four years of the contract provide annual raises ranging from 1.75 percent to 2.95 percent, plus annual "step" increases. Salaries now range from $53,135 for a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree, to $124,867 for a teacher with a doctorate and 25 years' experience.

Last week, neighboring Roslyn announced that it had signed a new five-year teachers' contract including no raise in 2010-11. Port Washington and Roslyn evidently are the first Island districts in more than four years to negotiate contracts without annual raises each year.

However, Roslyn also negotiated a six-month freeze in annual "step" increases that are built into teachers' contracts and average about 2 percent a year. In contrast, Port Washington teachers continue to get their normal "steps" each year.

"It's nice to get the zero in year one, but the hidden problem in these contracts is the step schedule," said Peter Wezenaar, vice president of the Port Washington Educational Assembly, a taxpayer group.

Port Washington officials note some other aspects of their contract are less generous than Roslyn's.

Across the Island, more than a dozen districts have acknowledged they may have to lay off teachers next year to cope with cuts in state school aid. In Albany, meanwhile, state lawmakers have indicated those cuts could total hundreds of millions of dollars statewide, though not necessarily the entire billion-dollar-plus reduction proposed by Gov. David A. Paterson.

"It should be very clear to everybody that this is a very difficult situation the state finds itself in," said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, a statewide union group.