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Roslyn teachers agree to temporary pay freeze

After more than 20 months without a contract, one of Long Island's highest-paid teacher unions has acknowledged "tough" financial times and accepted a temporary pay freeze - a rarity for the region.

Next year, Roslyn's 316 unionized teachers will go without a contractual raise for 12 months and also forgo their usual annual "step" increase for six months. The district's administrators estimate that the concession - which reflects a general slowdown in teacher raises across the Island - will save $1 million. Roslyn's total budget is $94.7 million.

The freeze is the Island's first for a teachers' union in more than four years, according to labor leaders and past news coverage. Brentwood and Lindenhurst now are pressing their teachers for future freezes or raise deferments, and Plainedge teachers recently signed a five-year contract with 1 percent raises in each of the first two years.

"Obviously, the zero is going to stick out for everyone," said Eleanor Russell, president of the Roslyn Teachers Association. She noted, however, that the new agreement boosts salaries by a total of 6.1 percent over four years, and called it "overall a fair agreement."

Salaries this year range from $54,567 for a first-year instructor with a bachelor's degree, to $132,312 for a 30-year veteran with a doctorate.

However, the agreement signed last week eliminates a clause that formerly guaranteed Roslyn would always rank within the top three districts in Nassau County in terms of salaries. In addition, teachers will gradually up their contributions for health insurance from 12 percent of costs to 20 percent.

District officials say higher contributions will save about $600,000 annually.

Dan Brenner, Roslyn's superintendent for the past year, acknowledged that negotiations that began under his predecessor, John Richman, were difficult at times. Brenner added that the new contract was cobbled together "with awareness of the difficult economic times we're involved in, and I think that benefits everyone, including the taxpayers."

Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy, the school board president, added that the agreement would help Roslyn maintain "an excellent, quality educational environment." As part of the package, teachers agreed to extend the elementary school day by 20 minutes - to six hours, 25 minutes.

Teacher contracts have a significant impact on the Island's economy, because they constitute the largest share of school expenses and account for more than 60 percent of property taxes.

Even after the 2008 stock market meltdown, teacher salaries have continued to climb across the Island, but at a slower pace than in the past.

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